99-year-old still plays golf

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Tom Garbutt had to celebrate his 99th birthday a day early.

He couldn’t miss golf the next day.

“I only get through nine holes though,” he said, as if most 99-year-olds play 18.

Born in Dunedin, Mr Garbutt started working at a nursery aged 14.

That led to a lifetime involvement in horticulture and a particular passion for rhododendrons – of which he has created 12 new species.

One of those was named after former All Black Dan Carter, whose aunt married one of Mr Garbutt’s sons.

“He is a down-to-earth and lovely man,” Mr Garbutt said.

The rhododendron expertise, combined with 18 years working in radio for a gardening segment, led to a role travelling the length of the country presenting The Realm of Rhododendrons – an in-depth look at the popular shrub.

That work was a far cry from the four years he spent in the Pacific during World War 2 as a wireless operator.

He served in the New Zealand third division, part of the first United States Marine Amphibious Corps, which, in Mr Garbutt’s words, “went island hopping”.

Upon returning home, he continued to work in horticulture, got married and had four children.

He moved to Oamaru in 1985, where he has lived ever since.

Mr Garbutt is still in good health, and was a popular figure at his birthday party last Thursday.

He still drives and has not had a ticket since he started in 1934 – not even a parking ticket.

As for the secret to remaining in such good health, Mr Garbutt said “my doctor sends me home with a half a sugar bag of pills”.

“They keep me going.”