At age 90, Bonner prepares to work The Solheim Cup

By: 
J. Patrick Eaken

At age 90, longtime Walbridge resident Josephine (DeFalco) Bonner is getting ready to volunteer as a marshal at The Solheim Cup.

The Solheim Cup is one of the world’s largest events for women’s professional golf. Toledo and Inverness Club will play host to the 17th edition of the Solheim Cup from Saturday, September 4 through Monday, September 6. The Solheim Cup pits the best players from the United States against the best players from Europe. 

According to Destination Toledo, the 2021 Solheim Cup is expected to bring 150,000 visitors to Northwest Ohio and generate $20 million in economic activity. “Jo” Bonner, as friends know her, wants to be a part of it.

“I saw a few years back where that was coming to the Toledo area and I just put that on my bucket list,” Bonner said. “When it came, I thought, ‘Oh, man,’ and I was still here, so I said I was going to see if they accept old people.

“It was just something I saw two or three years back and I loved watching it. I loved watching the excitement and the USA versus Europe, and I thought that would be absolutely awesome. I’m not sure what holes I’m going to be on yet because I don’t know the layout of the course. I’m pretty good at walking, but when it is hilly I do have a little bit of a problem, so I’m hoping I won’t be clear out in the boonies.”

Volunteering at professional golf tournaments is nothing new to Bonner. She began volunteering at the Jamie Farr LPGA Classic (now the Marathon Classic) at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania about 15 years ago, and she also volunteers at Senior Tour events near her current home in Fort Myers, Florida.

“I’ve marshaled at the LPGA that comes into Sylvania for quite a few years, and I have marshaled down here for the Senior Tour at Naples, Florida, and I’ve been the person who calls in the scores from the green for quite a few years down here, too. They gave us little books and tickets where you could play the real nice country club courses for doing that,” Bonner said.

Volunteering has given her exposure to LPGA professionals. She was impressed by Se-Ri Pak’s run of five championships at the Marathon Classic, has found time to talk to pros like LPGA legends Meg Mallon and Betsy King, and even chatted with television icon Jamie Farr, the Toledo native best known for his role of Corporal Max Klinger on M*A*S*H.

“The one gal, Meg Mallon, she was so gracious. She came up to me and thanked me for volunteering and being here which I thought was awesome,” Bonner said. “One time we talked a few minutes with Jamie Farr. He’s pretty awesome because he came every year and rode around and would stop and talk to people, which was nice. Other than that, I’m just kind of low-key.”

More than anything, she is always impressed with how the LPGA pros seem to make it look so easy — a nice, easy swing and their drive travels the length of nearly three football fields.

“Se-Ri Pak, it seems like she won about five times. She was pretty great and awesome. I just got done watching the KMPG on television here and Nelly Korda, My Lord, she hits that ball 250-some yards and she’s a little thin thing,” Bonner said. “Of course, these gals started when they were real young, too, and I never took lessons or anything — we just went out there and if the ball moved forward, you felt wonderful even if it was only a foot and you hope it keeps rolling.”

 

Staying active on the links

Bonner will still be 90 when she arrives in Ohio on July 11, but will turn 91 on July 15. She and her late husband Don, who passed away in 2006, moved to Fort Myers Beach full time in 2000. She is not just a volunteer, or even a spectator, when it comes to golf. She still plays, at least twice per week.

She participates in a nine-hole league at Fort Myers Country Club, plays in an 18-hole scrambles event every Saturday with a local VFW group there, and also plays in a nine-hole Wednesday scrambles twilight league that starts 5:30 p.m.

“She is a very active and spry lady,” says her daughter Kristie Ackerman, adding that her mother found time for parasailing in 2013.

Bonner estimates she has been golfing for about 35-40 years, picking up the game at about the age of 55. She once bowled the highest women’s score (678) at the former Moline Lanes, but since has turned her attention to the links. 

She started with a group of women who would travel around the Toledo area and southern Michigan, playing a different course every week. 

“I had a couple gal friends there who got me into it. We just kind of went all over and we got into some of the little tournaments that they had for charity and things like that,” Bonner said.

She jokes that golf has not been kind to her when it comes to scoring, but she is just being humble.

“I’m not the greatest or anything, but I’m out there. I am still loving it — good or bad,” Bonner said, keeping her sense of humor intact. 

“I think it’s a game that can make you very humble. If you get it all together, it’s great, but it seems like one day you’ve got your putts and your short game down and the next time it’s a challenge trying to hook it all up together. I love being out there in the open. It’s nice because of the people — you meet such nice people in the league,” Bonner said.

“There are days when I feel like I should go back into the clubhouse and pay them more money because I’ve taken so many strokes. But, I can’t remember what year it was, but I did get the nine-hole championship at Fort Myers a while back. Now, they’ve made us go to that 18-hole handicap, so it makes my handicap look worse. I liked it when it was nine holes — it didn’t look so bad.

In Florida, she and her friends take advantage when most of the snowbirds head north for the summer.

“They have a lot of nice courses here, too. What they do in the summertime to get people out playing because it gets so hot, the ladies have what they call Kissy-Golf — it is Keep it Simple Summer,” Bonner said. “They play nine holes scrambles, and you get your lunch and there are no prizes or anything, but then you get to play all the country club courses it keeps the country clubs going also. So, you get to play the courses that ordinarily are really truthfully unaffordable, so that works out pretty good.” 

 

 

 

 

 

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