Years of putting brings years of love

WARREN – In 1976, Jim White got down on his knees and begged his girlfriend, Bonnie, to marry him.

On a Putt-Putt course.

Nearly four decades later, he’s still on his knees – begging Bonnie not to beat him.

At Putt-Putt.

“I’m not even going to go there,” Jim said. “She beats me all the time. She’s the best putter in our family. Truthfully, I’m not even sure if I’m the second best anymore.”

He’s still a member of the Professional Putters of America and has been on the tour since the mid-1960’s. On Aug. 16, 1969 Jim and Bonnie first crossed paths at a national tournament at the Putt-Putt on Sheridan Drive in Buffalo, N.Y. Bonnie was an amateur player golfing with a professional in the pro-am competition. Jim tied her partner and eventually beat him, and won the girl, on the ninth hole in sudden death. That’s where he proposed to Bonnie seven years later.

“I’m a sentimental guy,” Jim said. “I put a blindfold on her and drove her all around the city of Buffalo. We eventually made it to Putt-Putt and the lights were off because it was October, but I popped the question on that ninth hole.”

A few years later, the Whites took a hiatus from miniature golf to focus on raising their two children, Colleen and Tera. In 2001, once the girls finished college, they started putt-putting more avidly and got back into the tournament swing.

“It seemed like a ton of work because I haven’t done it in 30 years,” said Bonnie, a Buffalo native.

She started playing putt-putt constantly when she was 9 and won a New York youth state tournament.

“The kids back then didn’t have all the advantages that kids today have,” she said. “I just rode my bike up to Putt-Putt everyday. I just started playing and playing. I was used to playing with guys because not many girls were interested.”

In 2003, Bonnie won an amateur national and world championship in Lubbock, Texas as the only female in the division.

“Woo,” she said. “It was so much fun.”

The couple recently moved to Florida, but lived in Cleveland, Jim’s hometown, for much of their lives. A John Carroll graduate, he worked as the Vice President of Finance at Lake Erie College and Tiffin University. From 2002-2007, they would drive from Cleveland to Warren and play the course, owned by Renea Ackerman, eight times a year. They still play in at least five tournaments a year.

Colleen and Tera might compare it to having performer parents in the circus.

“Our kids think its a hoot,” Jim said. “Tera’s boss comes to her one Monday morning with a newspaper. ‘So there is this thing called putt-putt that your parents do?’ he asks. “Then she says, ‘Yeah that’s my mom and dad.’

“Bonnie gets most of the press; she’s very competitive with the guys and they don’t mind that she competes with them and sometimes beats them.”

Bonnie is a favorite to win the amateur division title this weekend. The amateurs will compete on Course 1 and the professionals will compete on Course 3. Play begins today at 11 a.m.

Jay Klapper of Dacula, Ga. won the PPA Northern Open in 2010, when it was last held in Warren. He shot a 208, which was six strokes ahead of Rick Rybaczek.

“You always have to shoot for winning,” said Klapper, who has over 70 tournament wins in 40 years of professional putting. “If you don’t win, you hope you come in high. And if you don’t you have to be a good sport about it.”

Klapper uses a quote from former PGA professional Jack Nicklaus.

“He said that you can never miss a 4-foot putt on Hole 18,” Klapper said. “When I started doing that here – forgetting about my mistakes and just having fun – it really made me the player I am today.”

In 2005, he became the first professional to win both a national tournament and world tournament. He did this in a span of three days in Louisville, Ky.

“I won $6,000, which is not a lot of money,” Klapper said. “But to win that in something where you’re having the time of your life doing it is an incredible deal.”