Duston Mersinger and Rick Broderick have been best friends for more than 50 years, having met in the second grade at the Sacred Heart School in Glyndon. It was there, on the field behind the school, where their passion for playing golf together began.
"We would dig holes and put tin cans out in the field, and use our parents' clubs and go from hole to hole in the field," Mersinger recalled recently.
Though their lives went in different directions when Mersinger attended dental school at Maryland and Broderick went into the Navy, their friendship endured, as did their love for golf and their pursuit of playing the game across the country and around the world.
"The golf was the glue that held it all together," Mersinger said.
On Wednesday, the two Maryland men who are now in their early 60s will complete what has been a 31-year dream in the making. When Mersinger and Broderick tee off at Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan., they will have played in all 50 states — including Alaska.
The trip to Kansas holds special meaning for Broderick, who was part of the military honor guard that served at the funeral of formerPresidentDwight D. Eisenhower— whose own love for golf helped spark the game's popularity in the 1950s — in Abilene, Kan., in 1969.
"I haven't been back to Kansas since I was stationed out there," said Broderick, who along with Mersinger and their respective families will drive to the Eisenhower Library in Abilene after they finish playing golf.
For the 63-year-old Mersinger, who lives and practices dentistry in Hampstead, the goal of playing in all 50 states has become a family ritual. In 2008, his father Gene completed it at age 78. His wife Dolly has played in 35 states. Their 28-year-old daughter Blair has played in six.
"For my birthday this year, my daughter gave me golf balls with the words '50 states' etched on them," said Mersinger, a 10-handicap player whose best round was a 74 at Duck Woods in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Mersinger said that his wife grew up playing Worthington Valley and "she has a better swing than me." Their first date wasn't on a golf course — "I wish I could lie and tell you it was," Mersinger said with a laugh — but he said he found out "pretty soon after that" that his future wife could play golf.
In fact, it was what happened to Mersinger's father shortly after he played in his 50th state that served as motivation for his son finishing what he and Broderick started.
"I took my father up Maine to do it and four months later he had a stroke and never played golf again. He's been in a nursing home since," Mersinger said. "We decided this was something we had to complete."
The idea to play golf in all 50 states began for Mersinger and Broderick back in 1981. Initially, they thought about playing Golf Digest's top 100 courses but decided that it was "too much of a moving target" because the list changes every year.
Instead, they chose to play on one of Golf Digest's top 10 courses in each state.
It has taken them, separately, to well-known courses such as Riviera outside Los Angeles — a place made famous by the legendary Ben Hogan and often referred to "Hogan's Alley" — as well as together to obscure courses such as Moose Run outside Anchorage.
Among their favorite courses are Pinehurst No. 2, Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, The Ocean Course in Kiawah, S.C., and the Golden Horseshoe's Gold Course in Virginia. Their favorite local courses are Baltimore Country Club Five Farms and their home course at Piney Branch Golf Club in Hampstead.
"Not that I travelled that much, but I went to a couple of meetings or seminars each year and I had friends in other parts of the country and I was fortunate to play some really nice courses," said the 62-year-old Broderick, who lives in Reisterstown and retired after selling a local Budweiser distributorship.
A 6-handicap player, Broderick's best round was a 66 at the Greg Norman-designed Barefoot Landing course in Myrtle Beach.
Though best friends since childhood, Mersinger said that he and Broderick "are very competitive." So it wasn't unusual that this achievement started off as a competition to see who could get to 50 states faster.
Mersinger, who has played 431 different courses throughout the world, started by playing a course in Pine Mountain, Ga., but Broderick, who has played more than 500 courses, got off to a big lead by going on vacation to New England that first year and playing golf in six different states.
"When we started talking about doing this, my wife and I had some friends up in New England, my wife didn't actually play golf at the time," Broderick recalled. "That was probably the most [states] I played on one vacation."
The last few years, the Brodericks and their four children — Amy (31), Chad (29), Kevin (26) and Kyle (23) — have gone on several golf-centric family vacations. Linda Broderick started playing years ago when her children got the bug "and she thought she would be left behind," her husband said.
A couple of years ago, Broderick and his longtime friend were comparing notes one night at their club, Piney Branch in Hampstead, to see who was winning. It was pretty close and they decided to find a state where neither had played as the final stop.
"Kansas was in the middle of the country so it made sense," Broderick said.
Most of the courses they have played are on the grounds of private clubs, but their membership at Piney Branch provides reciprocity. They doubt they will ever get inside the gates of Augusta National, other than to see the Masters.
"That's one nut we'll never crack," Mersinger said.
It's not an inexpensive pursuit. Mersinger recalled how after arriving at Pumpkin Ridge outside Portland, Ore. — where Tiger Woods won one of his three straight U.S. Amateur titles — he was told it was going to cost him $300.
"I went out there and I was on the practice range, this woman came up to me and said, 'My name is Brenda, do you mind if I play along?'," Mersinger recalled. "She whupped me terribly, and she divulged at the end that she was the two-time women's club champion. But the fact that she was a member, the green fee was reduced to $50. She humiliated me, but she saved me $250."
Broderick never got to Pumpkin Ridge, where a picture of Woods hangs in the lobby, but he was able to play Pebble Beach, where Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by a record 15 shots, as well as Cypress Point and Spyglass, the other legendary courses along the Monterrey Peninsula.
But it was the family golf vacations he took with his wife and kids that seem to have the most lasting memories. When Broderick took his family to play golf in Wyoming and Montana a few years ago, they made sure to stop at Yellowstone National Park.
"It's been a great way to see the country and spend time with the family," he said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now