By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Willie L. Simmons, 91, says he has been around the game of golf for more than 80 years. Simmons is the founder of the Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

Since 2012, 91-year-old local golf instructor and nonprofit operator Willie L. Simmons has competed in every Roberts Family Development Center (RFDC) Golf Scholarship Classic. 

At the latest RFDC fundraiser held at Rocklin’s Whitney Oaks Golf Course on Sept. 24, Simmons showed the participants and donors that he is not displaying any signs of slowing down. 

According to Simmons, great health, a sound mind, ever-so-humble attitude and “14 to 15 holes of golf every Tuesday” are the keys to his presence on the golf links. 

“Just get up every morning and you’ll make it the rest of the way,” he said. “But the key thing, playing golf, is to have fun.”

Simmons has known Roberts, the co-founder of RFDC, for more than three decades. Roberts has also supported Simmons’ nonprofit, the Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association (NCMJGS), Inc. 

“I am a believer of this golf tournament because Derrell said this fundraiser is strictly for scholarships and that’s (NCMJGS’s) goal,” Simmons said. “So, that’s one of the main reasons why I came out to support him. Our nonprofit corporation always makes a generous contribution, too.” 

Willie Simmons, left, and Derrell Roberts, right, have been supporters of each others’ organizations for decades. Simmons recently played in the Roberts Family Development Center’s annual golf tournament. Russell Stiger Jr., OBSERVER

The RFDC Golf Scholarship Classic had 144 paid participants for this year’s version of the fundraiser. More than $60,000 was raised to support RFDC youth programs.

Roberts says he considers the youth-sports activist a “personal mentor and friend.” 

Over the years, many RFDC youths have participated in Simmons’ golf programs.

“He was one of the first leaders that I met when I first came into the Oak Park area. It’s been a two-way relationship, professionally and personally, for years now,” Roberts said. “I support his golf tournaments and he supports mine. He’s always been a supporter of RFDC’s work.”

Simmons was introduced to the game of golf on a course that he could not play on. The year was 1937, he was seven years old, and was “proudly,” he said, working as a caddy in West Monroe, Louisiana despite the racial barrier.

“It was because of my color but from that point on I’ve been around golf for over 80 years,” Simmons said. “I knew one day I would make a difference.”

Simmons was born, Aug. 15, 1930, in West Monroe, Louisiana, and moved to Oakland when he was 15, and then to Sacramento shortly after. He credits his health and longevity to a less stressful life.

“Life hasn’t been all that easy for me. I’ve been through some things but I just never worried about anything,” Simmons said. “I was just the way my parents and grandparents raised me. My grandparents on my dad’s side were both in their 90s when they passed. So I think it’s hereditary. I imagine that they took care of their mental and physical health the same way.”

Simmons, a retired engineer with the state of California, protects himself by wearing face masks and is fully vaccinated to avoid the COVID-19 virus. 

Willie and his wife Pauline E. Simmons, 90, will celebrate their 68th year of marriage on Dec. 26. The couple met in Sacramento and have been members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Oak Park for more than 65 years.

“We’ve been married since 1953,” Simmons said. “And the best part about it is that all of our children never gave us any problems.” 

Their five children, Lorraine, Lorretta, Linda, LaVerne, and Willie III have been continuously active in the Sacramento community for decades. 

As a unit, they founded the tax-exempt non-profit, Northern California Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association in 1990 and the nonprofit entity has been going strong ever since.

The National Golf Foundation’s (NGF) 2019 Golf Industry Report stated that 33.5 million Americans played golf in 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, the number of recreational Black golfers fell from 1.1 million to 800,000 according to NGF.

To combat those numbers locally, NCMJGS has been doing its part to promote education, youth-adult golf training programs and provide collegiate scholarships and financial aid to deserving Black students.

Simmons is proud of his family’s contribution to the community and the game of golf.

“I do get a lot of support from the family,” Simmons said. “We work so hard to make this happen for young people and older ones, too.”