It is 9 a.m. on Jan. 3, and H.B. “Boots” Claunts arrives at Canyon Mesa Country Club in the Village of Oak Creek.
It is a day like most: Boots shows up, sits beside his personal lamp and plays a game of hearts with his friends — as long as there are at least four of them, but no fewer — before setting off for another scramble or a morning raz as they call it on the links.
This day, though, would soon turn into a memorable one.
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The year was 1945, and Boots was stationed at Dum Dum Air Force Station in Calcutta, India. He was working as part of the Financial Fighting Corps, as he jokingly called it, of the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Being in that group was, “a really good break because not too many of them get killed,” Boots said. Another not so startling benefit was that he was able to golf.
It was at a golf course in Calcutta that his fondest memory in the more than 70 years that he has played was made — his ball had gone into a water hazard.
An Indian man then removed his typical garb of the times, which Boots likened to a bed sheet, and is known by various names — most commonly as a dhoti or mundu. The man waded into the water and retrieved Boots’ ball with it.
Fast forward 73 years. At Canyon Mesa’s sixth hole, one of Boots’ playing partners, Arland “Rev” Averill tees the ball up at just the right height. Rev knows, because he and all of Boots’ golfing partners tee his ball at every hole.
After receiving directions as to where to aim his shot — 70 yards to the pin, located at the front and center of the green — Boots tees off with his six iron. No practice swing either; he never does a practice swing.
“They tee it up for me, then I walk up and just knock the hell out of it,” Boots said.
Averill reports that the ball has gone past the pin and up a hill, but reverses course: It drops in, a hole-in-one.
The threesome of Boots, Rev and nickname-less Matt Calderini roll up to the green. A wide grin beamed from Boots’ face, and Rev retrieved Boots’ ball from the cup. It might be his second fondest golf memory; his initial reaction, he said, was “One trooper, very happy.”
Because at 98 years and 10 months old, it made Boots the oldest player to ever hit a hole-in-one at the course, besting the runner-up, Don “Maestro” LeGate by four months.
Rev quotes Boots’ thought after the shot: “‘I never thought I’d get another one.’” He had not gotten one since he was 95 and had nearly given up on it. But, he did not.
Not A First Timer
It marked Boots’ 14th overall and the 12th at the course; his first ever in November 1988 and his first at Canyon Mesa in 1999. Boots moved to the Village of Oak Creek in 1990 and joined the course that year. He has lived in the same house in the Village of Oakcreek Association and plays cards and golf almost daily — so long as there are three others for the cards and someone to help him on the course. He only hits from the red tees on the sixth and seventh holes, narrowing his chances at a legal hole-in-one to those two.
He cherishes those golfing partners, because without them, he said, he cannot play. More than anything else, it is that companionship that he relishes most. He has played with his morning raz group for about six years.
“I’m very, very lucky. I’m not agile at all, sometimes I fall. My golfing buddies, they tee my ball up for me. I can’t tee it up,” Boots said. “If it wasn’t for my friends, I would never be able to play.”
Those who know him in and around the clubhouse reciprocate the same sentiments.
“If you came over here to play, he would be the most welcoming person you could run into. You come in here as a new person, he makes you feel like you belong,” said Dave Fausch, golf chairman at Canyon Mesa, adding that he is “the spirit of the golf course.”
Boots is just as witty as his memory is sharp. He recalls spending exactly four years, one month and three days, from 1942 to 1946, in the armed services. After his discharge, he moved from his native home in Oklahoma to Arizona, and he began working at Valley National Bank.
After 13 years, he went to work for Arizona’s largest independent insurance agency, Mahoney O’Donnell — now known as The Mahoney Group — for 30 years. Along the line he lived in Phoenix, Glendale, Wickenburg, Globe, Douglas, Casa Grande and Sedona, which he listed in order, and all while he golfed.
Sports, he said, is 90 percent of his life, although he admitted he would like to say 110 percent. During recent decades he has only golfed, but in his youth he played basketball and baseball.
“Golf’s a great game. You don’t have to train or do this or do that. If you’ve got enough guts to get up here, come out to the course and play. Anyone can play,” Boots said.
He played forward on Oklahoma Baptist University’s basketball team from 1940 to 1941, and he’s a fan of the University of Arizona Wildcats basketball team. The University of Oklahoma Sooners football team is his favorite sports team. Canyon Mesa is his favorite course, but he is also fond of The Duke at El Dorado Golf Course in Maricopa.
His mantra for continuing to golf at such a late age is simple and is ultimately what got him that 14th one-shot hole.
“Don’t give up. Just keep trying. If you give up, you’ve had it. Don’t give up, look ahead,” Boots said.
Everyone at Canyon Mesa knows him and his smile, friendliness, wit and penchant for hole-in-ones. He is just as fond of them, his golfing buddies and everyone around the course, as they are of him.
“Everybody doesn’t play golf, and I don’t mean this the way it sounds. But it’s a special group, and they have to be great people. Making all those friendships. You’ll never lose them, you’ll never forget them.”
Knowing his memory, Jan. 3, 2018, is a day he likely will not forget either.