If there is such a thing as a typical 96-year-old, it certainly isn't Shelter Island's Sid Beckwith.

Not only does he play golf six times a week, he can drive the ball 200 yards and for years has been accomplishing the normally rare feat of achieving a score equal to or lower than one's age for 18 holes.

Beckwith first accomplished it 24 years ago and, by his count, has done it 1,088 times since. "Well, it's sort of a goal when I go out to play," said Beckwith, who plays his winter golf in Clermont, Florida. "I've been getting about a hundred a year."

Beckwith, nicknamed "Iron Man" at Gardiners Bay Country Club on Shelter Island, said the first time he achieved the rare feat was when he was 72 and shot a 71.

"It is said to be the hardest thing in golf, harder than a double eagle [3 under par]," said retired Gardiners Bay head pro Bob DeStefano. "Myself, I'm a golf pro. I'm 76 years old. And I've only done it once."

Beckwith, a 2015 inductee into the Shelter Island Athletic Hall of Fame, taught himself to play more than 85 years ago while working as a caddie on Shelter Island and received his first club -- a wooden-shafted mashie -- when he was 12 from the pro, who he said was his grandmother's cousin. A mashie is a now-obsolete club similar to the 5-iron used today for approach shots.

His father died when Beckwith was 3 and his mother remarried a few years later, he said. Though he grew up during the Depression, he made the best of it.

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"I did everything that I guess a kid could do, or even more," said Beckwith, who not only played on the Shelter Island High School golf team, but varsity baseball and basketball, too. "I started selling magazines. I sold Collier's and American magazine.

"When I was a little kid, I peddled honeycombs and some kind of soft drink to make spending money," he said. "Later on, I had a 1929 Ford and I delivered the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Shelter Island. I went clamming and scalloping. I always worked."

Later, he worked for the Dime Savings Bank in Brooklyn and played golf in an evening league on courses in Queens.

During World War II, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, he spent 38 months in the Army's anti-aircraft command on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, he said. Upon his return, he moved back home to Shelter Island, where his favorite golf course had been used as a wartime bean field.

"The Lions Club took it over, got it going again. I joined that in about 1955, and that's when I really started to play," he said.


His wooden-shafted mashie is long gone. "I've got more clubs than you can imagine," he said.

"He's phenomenal," said current Gardiners Bay head pro Leigh Notley. "He's also got 17 holes-in-one."

Beckwith said he plays only full-length courses, not shorter "executive" layouts. He always has companions, who attest to his score. He never accepts conceded putts, which golfers call "gimmes."

"I play by the rules. It's more fun," he said.

Which is not to say he is rigid. Beckwith always has considered himself adaptable. "I've sort of been a survivor. I've had just about everything you could have. During the war I had spinal meningitis," he said. "When I was 59 or 60, I had Lyme disease." A week ago, he was recovering from a leg injury after he fell off a bulkhead near his boat.

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Beckwith's wife, Geraldine, died 15 years ago after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He has a girlfriend, Helen Baillies, who lives with him. They both like to swim, play bridge and go boating. Into his 70s, Beckwith ran in the annual Shelter Island 10-kilometer race.

He also had leading roles in local theater productions on Shelter Island and in Florida. And, DeStefano said, "he is, without a doubt, the best joke teller at Gardiners Bay Country Club."

People there expect him to break 97 on or after his birthday, July 19. They often ask him his secret.

"I've always been active. I exercise. I think I eat well. But you also have to have genes," he said, "and some luck."