For most 100-year-olds, the thought of playing golf with their sons would be nothing more than a dream.
But for Newton native Byron Brittain, who became a centenarian last Wednesday, that was his reality Sunday morning, as all three of his sons — Bill, 78, Bruce, 74, and Barry, 69 — and a grandson, Adam, 47, traveled to Kansas from out of state to play six holes together at Fox Ridge Golf Club.
Byron may not be as long off the tee these days (don’t worry, he’s currently researching a purchase of a bigger driver), he has no trouble making the 5-minute trek from his home in his golf cart to Fox Ridge, where he has been a member since 1955, then walking on his own and playing a handful of holes as part of his everyday routine.
As you may have guessed, Byron Brittain isn’t your typical 100-year-old.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have a 100-year-old father who is as active and sentient and with it as he is,” said his oldest son, Bill. “He’s not as quick as he used to be, but he’ll hold his own against you. If you didn’t know he was 100, you would never guess.”
“You tell people that you’re going back home to play golf with your 100-year-old father and they’ll look at you funny,” Bruce, the middle son, added. “But the age doesn’t matter to him, he’ll still take your money.”
It’s become an annual tradition for his sons to flock to Newton (Bill lives in Chesapeake, Virginia; Bruce in Atlanta; and Barry in San Marcos, Texas) for their father’s birthday and treat him to a dinner and a golf outing. But sometimes one of the sons can’t make it on the exact dates or the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Four generations of the Brittain family were in Newton this week for Byron’s 100th birthday. That celebration culminated on Sunday with Byron’s lone birthday wish — to play golf with all three of his sons.
“I never dreamed in my life that I would live to be this old,” Byron said. “I enjoy spending time with my kids, always have. There aren’t very many people that at age 100 swing a golf club. So this is a great privilege for me today to be this old and to be here and be active and have some fun with them.”
Born on May 15, 1919 in Newton, Byron has been alive for 18 different presidents and seen everything from the Great Depression to World War II to the moon landing to Y2K. He grew up riding a horse and buggy and hand writing letters and now drives an automatic car and texts on an iPhone.
He was drafted into World War II with the Navy in 1944, repairing tailhooks on aircrafts in Norman, Oklahoma and later Memphis, Tennessee. After the war, Byron returned to Newton, where he raised his family and opened his own insurance business.
Byron didn’t have the easiest upbringing, so he became determined to make sure life was better for his sons. He was a caring and loving father, according to his sons, and most importantly, supportive. When their careers — Bill became a psychologist and later a management consultant, Bruce opened a marketing research firm in Atlanta, and Barry worked for the Coleman Company — scattered them across the country, Byron encouraged them to chase their own success.
“He taught me how to be a good dad,” Bruce said. “He was not raised by a good dad, so to not follow that same path you have to give him a lot of credit. I just followed the rule book that I was raised by. He always taught us to be loving and caring and to be fair, but don’t let your kids get away with things they shouldn’t.”
Because his three sons were separated nine years in age, the father taught each how to play the game independently. He was a stickler for the rules and made sure they played the game with honor. In that way, he tried to use golf as a life lesson for them.
“Golf teaches you how to be even-keeled and keep your composure,” Byron said. “On the golf course, it’s not a good trait to have a temper. Everyone is going to have mistakes. You just got to learn to live with them is all. That’s what I tried to teach my kids.”
In those younger years, music, not golf, was the thing that brought the family together like nothing else.
Byron was a member of a competitive barbershop quartet and passed down his love for music to his sons, who all have written music, sung and played the guitar. In fact, Bruce has recorded music he labels “country-themed rock and folk,” even enlisting the help of his brother, Barry, although he admits the albums have sold like “cold cakes.”
But when the three brothers arrived in Newton earlier this week, they made sure to reserve one night for them to sing and play the guitar together again as a family.
“The music and writing doesn’t make me money, but I just enjoy doing it,” Bruce said. “Music has always been a big part of our family.”
As they have all aged — all three of the sons are now retired — golf has become more of a social gathering for the family.
Byron is such a fixture at Fox Ridge that they have introduced forward tees, marked in yellow, specifically for their oldest-playing member. He says sometimes he has to chase 85-year-old “youngsters” off his tee box.
Credit for how he’s been able to stay active at age 100 varies. His sons say that he watches what he eats, keeps an active mind (“He can talk politics and have good, strong opinions with you,” Barry said) and has a good sense of humor (“I start every day by reading the obits in the paper and if I’m not in there, it’s a good day,” Byron quipped).
Bill jokingly referred to his father as the “$6 million man” because of six joint surgeries (both hips, both shoulders, both knees) over the years on top of a stent in his heart. They can all agree, however, that golf has played the central role in his condition.
“It keeps me going,” Byron said. “It’s my activity. I don’t swing the club very hard anymore, but I still like to play the game.”
On this Sunday, golf has become more than just a game for the five Brittains.
They are less concerned with wayward tee shots and missed putts than self-deprecating humor and razzing each other to keep the laughs going. Barry boos as his putt on No. 2 lips out. Byron exclaims “Oh boy, what a shot that was, look how far it went” when he tops an approach shot and the ball moves maybe a foot forward.
“Nobody actually looks forward to the golf,” Bruce said, to the others’ laughs. “We endure the golf part.”
But the day is worth it for Byron’s highlights alone.
He connects solidly on a tee shot on the second hole, 130 yards out in the fairway to the amazement of his sons. And then on No. 3, Byron lines up a 5-footer and his putt appeared to pass by the left edge until it curled around the hole and plopped in.
Those are the breaks you get for being a member on the same course for 64 years.
“I know every tree out here because it has visited with me and I’ve cut a lot of grass in various spots on this golf course over the years,” Byron said. “I know every hill and valley.”
And it’s memories like that in which his sons will cherish forever.
“These are the kind of moments you don’t want to pass up,” Barry said. “That’s why we come back every year. That was a really special moment.”
“We love it because we know it’s a memory that might be the last time,” Bruce added.
No matter what the scores were, every hole on Sunday with his sons was a precious memory to Byron. This was exactly what he wanted for his 100th birthday.
“All three of them graduated with their degrees and had successful careers and raised beautiful families, what more can you ask?” Byron said. “As far as I’m concerned, that makes my life successful.”