As a key member of the Philadelphia Flyers teams that won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and ‘75, Gary Dornhoefer has experienced the pinnacle of his sport.
As an 80-year-old, he feels the effects every day of his 14 years in the NHL, which ended 45 years ago. Over the course of his playing career and into today, the Flyer Hall of Fame member has had nine surgeries, most recently two hip replacements.
However, his competitive spirit – symbolized by the statue commemorating his epic overtime goal in the 1973 playoffs standing outside Xfinity Live! on the site of the old Spectrum Arena in the middle of the South Philadelphia sports complex – still burns.
Despite chronic back issues (bone on bone in three vertebrae) that limit his golf, he frequently shoots his age or better, mostly at Wild Quail Golf and Country Club near Dover, Delaware. He carries a 3.0 handicap playing from the club’s composite tees and as much as his achy back allows.
“We have a group that is called the Gaggle on Saturday mornings that includes a lot of low handicappers,” said Dornhoefer. “They are playing back, and I am playing up – I love that. It is nice to play for something. Competition is a lot of fun. You never lose that.”
Living within proximity of the franchise where he spent 11 years, he admits to missing “the competition and the team.”
“In professional sports you have someone to back you up; you don’t have that in golf,” Dornhoefer said. “We played sound hockey. Fred Shero was one heck of a coach. We had a system and we played to that. When you win two Stanley Cups, that is something you will never forget.”
Dorny’s iconic goal in 1973 is immortalized outside of Xfinity Live!, the site of the old Spectrum Arena. Photos: Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios
The glory of those “Broad Street Bullies” days in Philly remains as he stays in touch with teammates Dave Schultz, Bernie Parent, Bob Kelly and the Watsons, Joe and Jim. While that is imprinted deeply, the daily aches and pains make Dornhoefer wonder.
“I’ve had nine surgeries,” said the two-time NHL All-Star. “If I could do it again, it would be a difficult decision for me. I wasn’t that strong physically and I wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way.”
“Dorny,” as he is called by friends, was born in Ontario, Canada, and received his U.S. citizenship in 2016. Baseball, not hockey, was his first serious sport.
Dorny recalls breaking 80 the first time he played Pine Valley and his best (70) and worst (88) scores there. “That was the biggest thrill I ever had,” he said of his experiences at the exclusive bucket-list club.
Playing minor ball, he encountered a Canadian pitcher who left an impression. “You might know the name, Ferguson Jenkins,” Dornhoefer said of the Hall of Famer. “I couldn’t hit him if he was pitching from second base.”
Also, he lived a block away from Rockway Golf Club, a public course in Kitchener, so he bought a used set of golf clubs at age 11 with money saved from collecting bottles.
He also picked up hockey, starting as a goalie but he eventually grew to a tall but lanky winger who was first taken by the Boston Bruins in 1964. He still, however, played golf when he could.
While in his late 20s and early 30s, he was a scratch golfer and has remained around a 2 to 3 handicap.
In fact, early in his NHL career, he served as an assistant pro at Westmount Golf and Country Club in Kitchener, where he remembers marveling at the skills of the legendarily accurate ball striker Moe Norman and reveling in memorable golf with him at Rockway.
“Once he took his driver out and hit five balls into a 20-foot circle,” Dornhoefer said. “If I didn’t see it I wouldn’t believe it.”
Good players never overestimate their skills and, typically, Dornhoefer points to a ‘flaw’ in his game.
“I have never been a good putter because I have a difficult time reading greens,” Dornhoefer said. “When you have a strange course all I can say is ‘Help!’”
That has not deterred him from participating in the Bunker Club, a traveling competitive group with weekly competitions in Philadelphia and the surrounding region, organized by former PGA Tour pro Dick Hendrickson. Dornhoefer still soaks up golf knowledge from Hendrickson and long-time Philly area pro and 1999 U.S. Senior Open runner-up Ed Dougherty.
“Ed Dougherty always says that at our advanced age it’s not what your score is but how many good shots you hit,” Dornhoefer said. “I really believe that now.”
Among his “good shots” are a career-low 63 at age 17 at Rockway GC and a 70 at iconic Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey.
“When I was with the Flyers, I was good friends with the golf professional at Pine Valley and we went to the same church,” Dornhoefer said. “I played when the course was closed on Mondays.”
Dornhoefer and golf-loving teammates Orland Kurtenbach, Ted Green and Bob McCord snuck out for a round. Dorny made his first ace.
He recalls breaking 80 the first time he played Pine Valley and his best (70) and worst (88) scores there. “That was the biggest thrill I ever had,” he said of his experiences at the exclusive bucket-list club.
When asked what he’s done in golf that rivals the two Stanley Cup wins, he quickly responds: “Fifteen holes in one.”
His first came at a course he cannot remember but it did come with a story because it involved his Boston Bruin teammates.
During a late 1960s season, Bruins coach Milt Schmidt pulled the team together and put forth the following edict: If you were caught playing golf in season, it was an automatic $500 fine.
Regardless, Dornhoefer and golf-loving teammates Orland Kurtenbach, Ted Green and Bob McCord sneaked out for a round. Dorny made his first ace.
“The deal was if I took them out for dinner, the golf will never be mentioned,” Dornhoefer said. “But if I didn’t buy dinner, it would be in the newspaper the next day.”
In those days, $500 was a large sum for players who were paid the bare minimum and Dornhoefer’s calculations showed he’d be saving but because the dinner was likely to be around $300. “Not one word was ever mentioned,” he said with a chuckle.
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