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Charles Bassler Sr. had passion for golf until the very end

By Craig Clary, cclary@tribune.com

2:09 PM EDT, May 22, 2013

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On a doctor’s visit during the final year of his life, 92-year old Charles Bassler Sr. was asked a series of questions to test his mind, and then asked to write a sentence. Bassler simply wrote, "I love golf."

His daughter, Elizabeth Fandel fondly remembered that moment, one day after the golfing legend from Catonsville died on May 20.

“This was a man who made his living at something he loved, golf,” said Fandel, who helped care for her dad after his wife, Peggy, died in April of 2011.

He moved from Catonsville to her home in Mendham, New Jersey for his final two years and Fandel saw his passion for golf until his third bout with pneumonia finally took him away.

Although he was disoriented a day before he died, golf was still on the mind of Bassler Sr. whose favorite channel unti the end was The Golf Channel.

He carried a golf ball around the house all day and told his daughter, ‘I think I’m going to play a round of golf,’ said Fandel, noting, he later changed his mind and said ‘I’m just going to putt.”

Bassler, who played his final nine holes of golf with his daughter in September of 2012, at age 91, did more than just putt during his prime.

He won the Maryland Open seven times, the District of Columbia Open twice and the MAPGA Match Play Championship and MAPGA Section Championship five times each.

He was named Golfer of the Year in Maryland 10 times and won over 100 tournaments in his career.

Bassler Sr. was born in Catonsville and introduced to golf at age 13 as a caddy at Rolling Road Golf Club.

He later became a golf pro at Turf Valley when his family moved to Howard County.

During that time, he hosted legendary Hall of Fame golfer Sam Snead at his home, while Snead was playing in the Eastern Open PGA Tour event held at Mount Pleasant Golf Club.

Snead, who won 84 PGA tournaments and seven Major championships, spent time hunting, fishing, playing checkers and hitting balls with Bassler from the front lawn of Bassler’s home.

His late son, Chuck Bassler Jr., who shagged the pinpoint shots, barely moved 15 or 20 yards either way to catch them.

When Snead left, Chuck Jr. charged neighborhood kids a penny to see the room where Snead slept.

Later, the two golfers became linked together at the 1951 PGA Championship at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania.

Snead won the 36-hole match-play semifinals, 9 and 8.

But the PGA Championship would never be the same again.

During the match, Snead won three holes with stymies — meaning his ball was in front of Bassler’s on a direct line to the hole.

At the time, the ball was not allowed to be marked unless it was less than six inches away. That made holing the putt nearly impossible.

The next year, they changed the rule and eliminated stymies.

Bassler’s top-four finish earned him a berth in the 1952 Masters at Augusta, Georgia, which Snead won at two over par.

Bassler tied for 34th at 17-over, but had a memorable free lunch.

“I had steak sandwiches. I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” said Bassler, during an interview for the Catonsville Times in 2001.

Bassler liked Augusta because of its open fairways and was four under par at one point in the final round.

But a double bogey on hole number eight started a downward spiral that left him outside of the top 25, which would have qualified him for the 1953 Masters.

Despite that setback, Bassler Sr., went on to earn a spot in the Maryland Sports Hall of Fame in 1980 and Mid-Atlantic PGA Hall of Fame in 1987, one year after Snead was inducted.

Before taking over as head pro at Rolling Road (1948-58), Turf Valley (1959-60) and Indian Springs (1961-81), Bassler Sr. had paid his dues.

His father worked as a chauffeur for a wealthy family that belonged to the upscale club at Rolling Road Country Club.

Bassler Sr. worked in the clubhouse and caddied until his dad brought him a set of golf clubs.

He won a classic championship at age 16 at the Baltimore County Club and the Maryland State Junior title in 1937.

The following year his father died suddenly of a heart attack at age 49.

Needing money to help support his mother, brothers Ray and Bill and sisters Peggy and Mary, he worked at the Hilton Farm Dairy, 7-Up Company and the shipyard.

On the docks was the most prosperous, “The first week I made $116 and I thought I was rich,” he said. “I could have bought Catonsville for that kind of money.”

He joined the Marine Corps where he was part of the First Marine Division that secured the areas in Okinawa and Pelau and was supposed to go to Kiosk, Japan — two weeks before they dropped the atomic bomb.

When the war ended, he returned to Rolling Road Golf Club and entered his first tournament.

He paired with Spencer Overton, another Rolling Road legend, to win a 4-ball Veterans Tournament at Chevy Chase.

In 1946, he became an assistant pro at Chevy Chase Club and proceeded to dominate the Mid-Atlantic area.

In the 1960s, he wrote a book “How You Can Play Par Golf” and it was reissued in 2000 in large print.

He always loved the course at the Rolling Road Golf Club.

“Why that was good golf course was you never get a flat lie,” he said. “You had to have accuracy and I could play up and down on hills.”

Family and Friends are invited to call at the Sterling Ashton Schwab Witzke Funeral Home of Catonsville, Inc 1630 Edmondson Ave. Catonsville, MD 21228 on Friday May 24, 2013 from 9-11 a.m. where Funeral Services will follow. Entombment in Loudon Park Cemetery. Online condolences may be made at www.sterlingashtonschwabwitzke.com.