BANGOR, Maine — Nearly every Thursday morning, 90-year-old Hilda Wardwell arrives at Bangor Municipal Golf Course ready to have some fun during the Bangor Women’s Golf Club’s weekly tournament.
“I think Hilda’s such a role model,” said club president Marilyn Rice. “Hilda encompasses all the good things that golf is about, the camaraderie and getting out and playing no matter what.”
Wardwell, a Bangor native, has a hard time understanding why anyone would make a fuss about her — especially in regard to golf.
“I’m not playing golf that well,” Wardwell said matter-of-factly.
Trudy Dorval, president of the Women’s Maine State Golf Association, said Wardwell is the oldest active player among approximately 300 members statewide.
“She was the oldest player we’ve ever had play in our senior championship [this year] and we did give her an award that day,” said Dorval, who explained the WMSGA will honor Wardwell during its annual meeting at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
“Eighteen holes is a lot for somebody 90 years old, so she does really well,” Dorval added.
Wardwell has a handicap index of 40, the statistical approximation of how many strokes above par she might shoot on her best days. She describes herself as a competitive person, but tries to take her game in stride.
“I’m not happy that I play badly, but it’s all right,” she said, quickly expressing her gratitude for relatively good health.
Wardwell hits the ball straight and her fellow golfers marvel at her ability to remain active.
“When I watch her play it’s like, wow, I hope I can continue to play when I’m her age,” said Liz Coffin of Bangor, the reigning women’s club champion at Bangor Muni.
“She’s still a competitor and wants to stay active. It’s a great inspiration to everybody in our association to see her do that and participating with us,” Coffin added.
Wardwell, a mother of three who has seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, doesn’t want to be a hindrance and makes a concerted effort to play quickly.
“She’s out of the cart and hits before I’ve even decided what club to hit,” Rice joked, noting that in the BWGC, playing groups are not based on ability.
“The girls are absolutely wonderful. They make a big deal of me,” said Wardwell, who often plays with close friend Rita Stimpson, who is 84.
More than Wardwell’s physical attributes, it is her indomitable spirit that sets her apart.
Rather than worry about her score, bad weather or other issues, she is an uplifting presence both on the course and in the clubhouse.
“She just dives right into life and takes every single day as a gift. She really is a remarkable woman,” said Robin Ashe, who also plays bridge with Wardwell.
Wardwell is a 1940 graduate of Bangor High School and earned a business degree from Husson College in Bangor. She was a stay-at-home mom for many years and was active as an adult education teacher in Bangor.
Wardwell spent 14 years as a business education teacher at Bangor High School before retiring in 1983.
She took up golf in 1973, at age 50. It was a frustrating experience for someone who always considered herself a good athlete.
“It was very disappointing because I expected to be [good],” said Wardwell, who first played at the former Woodland Terrace course in Holden.
Wardwell and her late first husband, Ernie Wardwell, later became members at Bangor Muni. She spends the winter months in Largo, Fla., where she plays two or three times a week.
“I remember playing with a woman years ago who was 76 and saying, ‘I’ll never be playing when I’m 76,’” Wardwell said with a laugh.
She has hit three holes-in-one in 40 years, two of those in Florida.
The energetic Wardwell has overcome her share of health issues.
Seven years ago, she underwent open-heart surgery and was forced to give up playing tennis. And though she wears a pacemaker, she wasn’t about to slow down.
Last winter, Wardwell wound up in a Florida hospital with another heart ailment. This time, it took her longer to bounce back.
Wardwell knows her game isn’t likely to improve, so she doesn’t focus too much on the scorecard.
“I’m just lucky that I can be out there and play,” Wardwell said. “I think you have to keep moving, you have to eat right and have a good attitude, no matter what. That, you can work on.”
That doesn’t mean anyone in Wardwell’s group is going to get anything past her. She is a stickler for playing by the rules.
“She knew how many strokes I took and how many strokes she took, too,” quipped Coffin.
“To have the opportunity to play with Hilda, it doesn’t matter how many times she has to hit the ball, it’s about her being the best she can be,” she added.
Wardwell said staying active, physically and mentally, has played an important role in her longevity.
She plays bridge twice a week, participates in a book club and does crossword, sudoku and cryptoquip puzzles daily.
Wardwell wondered aloud about her good fortune in enjoying such a long and fulfilling life.
“I feel guilty,” she said. “I don’t like to look at the obituaries, because so many people die so young and I don’t like to see that.”
Wardwell doesn’t take anything for granted.
“Life is good,” she said. “You take every single day and appreciate it and do what you can.”