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Traveling Golfer; 'Every golf course looks different'

By plane, train, bus, car, and motor home they had come.From 24 states, 221 senior citizens -- aged 50 (just) to 80 (well over) -- gathered in San Diego recently to compete in an NSSA golf outing.

This is not the NASA of space travel! It's the National Senior Sports Association, a nonprofit organization, not quite two years old, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Its aim is to promote active participation in sports for anyone 50 or more.

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Ever since NSSA was founded, I've been getting its newsletter. It gradually dawned on me that I myself was eligible, so down I journeyed to San Diego to take part in its fourth of 17 scheduled golf trips this year.

Although NSSA encourages just about all sports, it is golf and tennis that most trips are built around. There are considerably more golf trips than tennis , because golfers are more inclined to travel for their sport. As Eugene Skora, NSSA's executive director, explained to me, "A tennis court is always the same, but golf looks different wherever you go."

On this trip, as on all others it sponsors, the price of the basic package was geared to retirement incomes. It offered hotel room, parties for getting acquainted and saying farewell, and the camaraderie of golf, with transportation to and fro and electric carts provided, at three top local courses: Torrey Pines , Cottonwood, and the Tijuana Country Club, just over the Mexican border.

Competition ranged from tigerlike to lackadaisical. The format was an ongoing tournament, the men playing with the men, the women with the women, within four age groups. You can refuse to be categorized if you want. One 81 -year-old insisted on playing with the 60-69s, and was glad he did. He was one of the ultimate victors.

The ever-benevolent Mr. Skora was everywhere. He and his superhostess wife, Ann, circulated to introduce members to one another. The whole charming effect was of a reunion of friends.

The trips are purposely scattered all about the country so as to be within reach of as many members as possible. Other trips this year include Pebble Beach, Calif., and French Lick, Ind., in July; Jacksonville, Fla., in August; Fairlee, Vt., in September; and Miami in October. Also coming up in the autumn are golf trips to Hawaii, Scotland, and Portugal- Spain.

NSSA also offers bowling, skiing, fishing, running, racquetball -- any sport, in fact, that sizable numbers of members may request. Membership costs $15 a year. For particulars write 1900 M Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Phone ( 202) 466-6395.

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Several of this year's combine both golf and tennis. Here at San Diego it was golf only, and Skora, a tennis player without a partner, was frustrated.

"I may have to take up golf in self-defense," he remarked with a wink.

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