About two weeks after her 90th birthday, Mary Esther Spell was playing her regularly scheduled Monday morning game at The Groves Golf and Country Club. She chose a 5-wood for the 111-yard seventh hole, where the tee box was adjacent to her home. She swung smoothly. The ball went straight. It bounced once and rolled … straight into the hole.
“I was as shocked as anyone,’’ Spell said with a laugh.
Actually, it shouldn’t be a shock — or even a surprise. It was the eighth hole-in-one for Spell, whose passion for golf is only surpassed by her overall zest for life.
“She’s a real sweetheart, a wonderful lady,’’ said Richard Moore, pro shop manager at The Groves, a 55-and-over community in Land O’ Lakes. “I’ve been playing golf for 52 years and I’ve never had a hole-in-one. Not one. And she has eight!
“She’s very competitive. She loves the game. As I’ve gotten to know her, I’ve realized that she has led a remarkable life.’’
In 1950, Spell was named “Miss Tampa’’ as a 19-year-old University of Tampa sophomore, never losing her “charming smile’’ throughout the pageant, according to a Tampa Tribune account. She had a lengthy career at an advertising agency.
Her first marriage ended in divorce and she raised her daughter as a single mother. She married again to a prominent Tampa orthodontist, but she quit working to become his caretaker before he was claimed by cancer at age 54.
She buried her only child, Terri, two years ago after the daughter had moved back in and they spent a joyous few years together. Her only grandchild, Shawn Matthews, is married and lives near Ocala. She’s still hopeful of a great-grandchild.
“I told them to hurry up … because I’m not getting any younger,’’ Spell said, laughing again.
About two years ago, Spell wasn’t feeling great and she hoped doctors could figure it out. It was pancreatic cancer. She agreed to an operation because she didn’t want prolonged treatment and the loss of her hair. Incredibly, the doctors got it all. Spell kept going.
“I’ve had ups and downs in my life — as everybody does,’’ Spell said. “What I’ve learned is you get up every day and try again. You don’t give up. You look for the good in life and the good in people.’’
Sometimes, Spell might sheepishly tell someone that she was once crowned “Miss Tampa’’ just two years after she graduated from Tampa’s Hillsborough High School. The Tampa Chamber of Commerce-sponsored pageant was held before 700 spectators at the Palma Ceia Country Club. The Tribune reported that a “golden crown’’ was placed on her head, but Spell remembers the “crown’’ as a heavy paper creation that was painted gold.
She received a $300 scholarship and a diamond-studded wristwatch, along with a place in the “Miss Florida’’ pageant. She remembers handing out a trophy to the winner of a Tampa auto race, but not many other duties in her year of service.
Whether it’s a happy memory or something she had to endure, Spell tries not to look back too much. She has enough to keep her looking ahead.
“I’ve been blessed — doubly blessed — because I have my health and so many good friends where I live,’’ said Spell, who keeps up with crossword puzzles, reads mystery novels and socializes when she’s not playing in her three-times-a-week golf games. “People have been just wonderful to me. I have several things I enjoy, but golf is definitely my biggest activity.’’
Spell said she learned golf as a teenager from her father, who played actively at the Temple Terrace Golf Club. She went years without playing, but picked it up later in life and carded her first hole-in-one in 1994 during a round at Tampa’s Northdale Golf Club.
That rare golf accomplishment happened to her seven more times — the latest at age 90.
“I think it’s pretty much luck,’’ Spell said. “It all has to be aligned perfectly. You know how golf is. Some days you’re the windshield and some days you’re the bug. You can have a hole-in-one, then put it in the water on your next shot.
“I think golf is like life. You keep showing up. You try your best. You keep on keeping on.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published December 23, 2020