Camaraderie on the course

By Ann Miller
Special to the Star-Advertise

Warren Stone, 99, appreciates every day he gets to spend golfing with his friends

Life is good for Warren Stone. He just bought a new car. He golfs at least three times a week and walks a couple of miles a day with wife Karen. The two travel often, with only Mongolia and Tibet missed on their bucket list. He has read nearly 1,500 books on Kindle.

And, oh yeah, on Nov. 16 — “King Kalakaua’s birthday,” Stone proudly reminds — he turns 100.

He celebrated early, recently joining a tiny group who receive free dues at Oahu Country Club after hitting 50 years of membership. For the past three years, his OCC friends have held an informal tournament and party for his birthday.

“We have fun playing, joking and enjoying the game with him,” says Mo Gaborno, who has been playing with Stone for 25 years. “He is a good friend and my hero.”

For so many reasons. Stone enlisted in the Navy a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is what ultimately brought him to Hawaii. He is in the Hawaii Publisher’s Hall of Fame, an honor he insists should have gone to his late wife, Margie. He “dragged” her away from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to help him start Hawaii Tourist News, Hawaii Travel Monthly, Guide to Oahu and other publications — “To tell people what to do when they’re here. Where to go, what to see.” Not long after he got into publishing, Stone hurt his arm playing tennis. Golf entered his life and will never leave it. “After golf we have lunch,” says OCC buddy Larry Taff. “Then we say, ‘Who will be here next week?’ and someone asks Stoney, ‘Are you going to be here?’ He always says, ‘God willing.’” God has been good. Golf has, too. Stone found a sport that not only inspired his athletic and competitive nature, it gave him a constant community of friends.

He is upfront that golf’s ability to encourage “camaraderie” is its greatest quality.

“I think the people you play with are the best part,” Stone says, “because you have time to talk to them while you’re playing. When you ride, between shots you’re talking with them. You’re with a companion most of the time.”

That time is multiplied when you walk the course, which Stone did until he was 85. Time is multiplied exponentially at extremely steep OCC, which can be more like hiking a national park than playing a peaceful 6,000-yard course in an astonishingly beautiful setting.

Walking that course gives new meaning to breathtaking. Stone actually plays ultra-flat Navy-Marine — “with a really great group” — once a week now for a little variety, and relaxation. He and Karen also like to visit the neighbor islands, often playing 36 holes in the morning.

“Those hills at Oahu have gotten a lot tougher in the last few years,” Stone admits. “You keep going up, up, up.”

Even in a cart it’s not easy, but Stone is more than capable.

“To be 99 is one thing, but to be healthy is the other thing,” he says. “It still feels like I can get up in the morning and do the things I want, like we go out and walk a couple of miles.”

And Stone just keeps swinging, and socializing. Taff admits he didn’t realize how much the game’s gift for gab and geniality could mean as players get older, until he saw its impact on Stone and those around him. “There’s always someone to hang out with,” Taff says. “Normally at that age you’ve outlived your spouse, maybe some of your kids and a lot of others. But at OCC you have a rotating group of friends always around.”

Stone grew up playing team sports and later took on surfing, skiing (water and snow) and weightlifting along with tennis. His late devotion to golf led to a handicap as low as 6, in his 70s. He shot a career-low 67 at 72. About that time he was winning club events and starting to shoot his age — often better. He figures that used to happen about 20 times a year, so often he lost count. This year he hasn’t done it at all, and he loses count in other ways. He hits it shorter and scores much higher the past couple of years, with his handicap currently 35.

“I keep telling people now the hardest thing about playing bad is keeping score,” he says. “Yeah, trying to remember what the hell you shot.”

But he is still a betting man, and after the round he can remember practically every shot — and most of the others in his group. Not that it really matters. “It’s almost all social now,” Taff says about his “very resilient” friend. “He just wants to be out there and be with people, and that gives him something.” It gives him joy, and so do travel buddies, friends and family, including granddaughter Kira Mahealani Stone, who starred as Cassie in Diamond Head Theatre’s “A Chorus Line” two years ago.

Being with people he cares for and respects was also the highlight of his professional career, which he enjoyed because it kept him “in the tourist world.” “It’s an interesting world, all the things going on, various people,” he says. “There were a wonderful, wonderful bunch of people in the tourist industry at that time.” Somehow, Stone seems to discover many, many wonderful people. It should be clear, as he closes in on 100, that he attracts them. Especially on the golf course.

“My greatest golf accomplishment is just being out there,” Stone says. “Another time. One more time. Yeah. Just one more time is important.

“I enjoy it very much. I have a really great group of people that I play with.”

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