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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Eighty-nine-year-old Harold Chapin is the founder of the Chapin Bunch, a group of golfers that has been playing together well into their golden years.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Richard Young, 75, does a little stretching before he tees off during a regular golf game with the Chapin Group. The group seems to enjoy wisecracking each other's game as much as they do playing the game.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Buzz Kerwin, 78, who was once a roller skating champion, lines up his shot as he plays his usual game of golf with friends in the Chapin Group.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

A Chapin Group golf ball may one day be a collector's item.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

"At our age, we may not be here for a long time but we're here for a good time," says J.D. Tyner, 77, who plays golf with the Chapin Group of older golfers including Richard Young, left.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Ed Trogdon, 87, left, and Ed Ederra, 75, are two retired CHP officers who play golf with the Chapin Group.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Gene Tolomei gets a nice shot out of a sand trap to get in a good position on the green. He plays with the Chapin Group of older golf players.

Consistent putting skills are important in golf. So is the ability to smash a tee shot hard into the fairway, or delicately wedge a Titleist out of a sand trap and drop it, sweet as can be, on the green.

But in the Chapin Bunch, a loose group of senior golfers that has been around for some 65 years, there's one skill that may be more important than all the others combined.

A well-timed sense of humor.

"At our age, we know we won't be around for a long time," said J.D. Tyner, 76. "But we know how to have a good time."

They'll never be mistaken for members of the PGA tour, but the three dozen golfers who tee off twice a week -- Thursdays at Riverlakes Ranch and Tuesdays at a selection of other golf courses around Bakersfield -- are part of a tradition going back to when the group's 89-year-old founder, Harold Chapin, was in his mid-20s.

"It's always been a bunch of good people out to have a good time," said Chapin, a retired accident investigator. "No big money is lost. The most anyone can lose is five bucks."

Each player throws a fiver into a virtual pot at the beginning of each round, a practice that gave rise to another handle for the group occasionally used by members: the "Five Dollar Bunch."

Bill McCoy, a retired postmaster, who at 62 is one of the "youngsters" in the group, noted he has to wait until he is 75 before he can move a few yards closer to the pin, from the standard men's tee to the "gold" seniors' tee.

"Only two times in my life I needed a fake ID," he quipped. "Before I turned 21 -- and now."

Mulligans, botched shots replayed from the spot of the previous stroke without penalty, are not allowed, but fairly generous gimmes for putting out are.

Chapin took the time to warn a visiting reporter that the language on the links could occasionally get a little salty -- apparently not aware that intermediate- and expert-level cursing in newsrooms occurs as a matter of course.

Cory Thomas, the general manager at Riverlakes, said the group of about three dozen players has become something of a tradition.

"They've been with us for a long time," Thomas said. "We really appreciate them."

And while the golfers dearly love to get up two mornings a week to chip, putt and crack wise, 18 holes at a time, there's a serious side as well. The 70-, 80- and 90-somethings regularly laugh about the indignities of aging, but they are reminded of the inexorable arc of a man's lifetime each time one of their own quits due to infirmity -- or when they learn of his passing.

"When you've been golfing with the same group for nearly 50 years, the friendships one makes are significant," said Bert Wilson, 77.

"Even when death takes one of the group, they are not forgotten."

Many in the group have left their mark -- in their families, in their careers, communities and as part of the larger world.

Wilson mentioned the names of many who are gone, including Ken Allen, who flew dozens of missions over Europe as the pilot of a B-17 bomber during World War II. And John Gillett, who served in the Navy in the Pacific theater.

Montie Griffith, Wilson said, was a "belly gunner" whose plane crashed in Poland during the big war. He used to feign regret that the crash didn't happen somewhere more favorable.

"I could have gone to Paris," he used to tell his friends.

And they laughed with him in fellowship and camaraderie -- before they cried at the occasion of his loss.

Meanwhile, new members -- sometimes the sons of longtime Chapin Bunch loyalists -- replace those who fall away. And each week, the golfers climb out of bed to once again meet together to chase a little white ball across a verdant-green landscape cut into an arid, urban footprint.

And they play, they laugh and they remember.