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No, it’s not a joke.  It was on the second green when I realized that our group represented four generations.   What had caught my eye was watching an 89 year old member of the Greatest Generation bending down to fix the ball mark that the Boomer’s ball had made.  The Boomer had walked past it, either oblivious to it, or perhaps thinking he would fix it at some point in the future.  The GI took care of it and a few others while he was at it.  The Boomer didn’t notice or express appreciation.  This happened many more times during the day.  At the end of the day, the course was in better condition because a member of the Greatest Generation had played there.

Creating Results studies different generations and segments  to help companies connect with mature consumers, but we don’t often get to play with them.  As the round continued, I noticed more behaviors that demonstrated typical generational characteristics, but I also saw that we were individuals rather than stereotypes.  The Boomer easily regaled us with stories about his successful children and the state of his business and the impact of the recession.   He shared a story about when he had come to play with the Silent and GI ten years ago.  He had put his bag on a golf cart and planned to ride around the course.  The Silent showed up and pulled his bag on a hand cart.  The GI, then 79 years old, carried his bag and walked all 18 holes.

The Silent was, for the most part, silent.  He asked questions, helped the others find their balls, and offered suggestions on playing the course.  A course he had helped to design surrounded by conservation areas he had saved from development, but one would never have known that from his actions.  The Silent had organized and funded the entire outing with the only objective being to have a good time with some people he respected and whose company he enjoyed.

The GI was frustrated with the quality of his game and complained at one point, “I need to practice more.”  I asked how often he played and he said, “most everyday, but I need to practice more”.  Despite his “under performance”, he cleaned our clocks.

For the Greater Good

The GI volunteered little information.  But when asked direct questions about his experiences as a member of the 82nd Airborne in Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, his life after the war, and his children arranging for him to return to Normandy for the 65th anniversary commemoration, he somewhat reluctantly shared stories that have stuck with me.  Listening to him was humbling.  I had no doubt in my mind that I had the honor to be in the presence of a member of the Greatest Generation.

After the war, the GI lived many lives, but through all of them was a theme of public service.  He devoted much time to volunteering on town councils, creating affordable housing and assisting a multitude of charitable organizations.  For longer than I have lived, he has organized his town’s 4th of July celebrations.  That meant for years I had seen, and yet not seen, him march with the Veterans.  I was inspired and yet disappointed when I reflected on my comparatively meager contributions to society.

My golf that day was horrible, but it was the best round I’ve ever had.

About The Author

Todd Harff

Insights from agency Founder Todd Harff have been shared in Brand Week, Ad Age, Marketing Charts, The Wall Street Journal, The Journal on Active Aging, 50+ Magazine, and Selling to Seniors and from podiums at international conferences. He is the co-author of three national studies/eBooks (Photo Finish; Social, Silver Surfers 2010 & 2013). Todd also developed programs on marketing to Baby Boomers and seniors for George Mason University, Lasell College/ E.L.D.E.R. and NAHB’s University of Housing.