Speak the initials--NSSA--and it sounds like America's space agency.
Actually, the National Senior Sports Assn. is very much down to earth.
Founded in 1979 as an outgrowth of AARP (the American Assn. of Retired Persons), the Fairfax, Va.-based NSSA began as an organization dedicated to the proposition that through active participation in sports--all sports--a person could live his or her senior years in a healthier, happier way.
"I could hardly wait to turn 50," recalls Lloyd Wright, NSSA's executive director and founding father. At the time, Wright was a slightly burned-out, 47-year-old public relations executive who had been involved with the Peace Corps, the United States Information Agency and AARP.
During its first few years, NSSA floundered as it tried to be all things to all sports lovers. A ski jaunt here, a tennis trip there, plus outings for hikers, bikers and runners.
But it soon became clear that only two sports were of significant group appeal--bowling and golf.
Those sports have been the mainstay of NSSA since the early '80s, with golf being the runaway biggest draw. As Wright explains: "Golf looks different wherever you go. It provides far more of an incentive to travel than other sports."
NSSA is now an independent organization with about 6,000 members nationwide, having long ago parted official company with AARP. Members must be at least 50 years old and pay $25 a year to be eligible for the year-round group golf outings, which feature a tournament format and are held at resorts both within and outside the United States.
Destinations are purposely spread all over the map, the intention being to lower the travel cost for members wherever possible. This year NSSA hosted 18 golf trips, including stops at Myrtle Beach, S.C., Coeur d'Alene, Ida., Pompano Beach, Fla., and Acapulco, Mexico. Members who live near enough so that they don't need a hotel room at the resort involved can sign up for the "D" (for day) Plan.
Typically, 60 to 100 members show up at an NSSA outing. With such a manageable number, there usually is plenty of opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends.
Wright, operating behind the scenes, enjoys manipulating the table seatings and golf partner pairings to match singles with other singles. NSSA, in fact, has a "find you a roommate" service for singles preferring not to pay the usual stiff hotel supplement for a single hotel room.
Competition on NSSA golf trips varies from the tiger-like to the laid-back. Early on, golfers were separated by age groups, but it was an arrangement nobody liked.
Today, the usual format is pairings in flights according to handicaps, with everyone mixed together on the first day in a "getting-to-know-you" scramble.
Wright personally hosts most of the trips. Recognizing that many of his members are on retirement incomes, he negotiates, he says, for the lowest costs possible at the nicest places. Typically, a four-night, five-day package that includes room, breakfasts, golf with cart, several parties and welcome and farewell dinners costs about $600 per person (air fare not included). It's about half that if you don't need the hotel room.