A group of golfers fill the circular tables in the pro shop at Cullman Golf Course, telling jokes and exchanging good-natured jabs.

They’re exhausted from a morning of golf played in 90-degree temperatures, but that all changes for four of the men when the day’s results are read.

“I just love taking y’all’s money,” said Jimmy Dale Burgess, host of the local sports radio show, “Breakfast Club with Jimmy Dale” on AM 1340.

Burgess and the rest of his team — Cliff Nelson, Ray Wilson and Talmadge Wright — are excited because they’ve just won $5.50 each for their morning of work on the golf course.

Though that might not sound like much, the informal competition — the Senior Dogfight as it has been dubbed by its members — can at times be downright ferocious.

Three times a week, 60- and 70-something men from the Cullman area gather at Cullman Golf Course for some friendly competition and fellowship. Afterwards, they gather round the tables in the pro shop to determine the winners — and to distribute the payouts — before it’s off to lunch.

Haven’t heard of it? It’s been around for about eight years.

“Everyone likes it because you’ve got a chance to win — even the worst players,” said Fred Ponder, referring to the competitions three flights of individual competition.

According to Ponder, the informal group was started about eight years ago by Kermit Ivey and Charlie Shafer. Over the years, the format has changed to suit the number of men that come out to play. Though 22 played Wednesday, the group has seen as many as 37 before.

“It’s been going on about eight years,” said Bill Lloyd, another member of the group. “It used to be a two-man scramble.”

And the format is not the only thing that has changed over the years. With all the different players coming through, the core members have gotten to meet a lot of interesting characters.

One of the most intriguing would have to be Sam Riopka, a Ukrainian immigrant and multi-time champion of the Cullman Golf Course Senior Open. During the Second World War, Riopka was conscripted into the Red Army and forced to fight under the Soviet flag.

After the war ended, Riopka and three others marched over 1,500 miles to the U.S. Zone of Germany to free themselves from Soviet oppression.

Out on the golf course, though, Riopka is fair game.

“If he loses a time or two, he’ll pull out,” said Lloyd, chuckling.

And Riopka isn’t the only fascinating story. Shafer, one of the group’s founders, is a retired state trooper who was called into action when Vivian Malone and James Hood became the first black students to enter the University of Alabama. According to group members, Shafer is clearly visible in the movie “Forrest Gump.”

With such interesting personalities around the group, it’s easy to see why the guys show up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, year-round.

“It has to be really bad weather for us not to play,” said Ponder.

After Wednesday’s action, the group decided to eat lunch at Williams Barbecue — mostly for the banana pudding.

Sounds like a perfect use of $5.50.

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