Chasing the Ace

Ask your friend what they received for Christmas last year, or what they did last Saturday night, few are quick to recall. But, ask a golfer if they ever had a hole-in-one, the answer is immediate and given with a great sense of clarity.

The “no’s” are often answered reluctantly, followed by a slow shake of the head and an embarrassed glance to the ground. The “yes’s” are immediate and direct, followed by a rapid recital of numbers and facts, as if they had given birth to each proud and shining moment.dclv09i01-fairways-jim-rossol

They know the golf course, what hole, the length of the hole, what club they used, who they were playing with, the weather conditions, their thoughts, who said what, the swing, the ball flight, the reaction… and, of course, the celebration. The year, for some reason, is often a fuzzy and unimportant detail. But the suspended memory of the moment, and the circumstances surrounding it, is life lasting and crystal clear.

What is it about the hole-in-one that causes golfers to jump out of their spikes? Why does the ace carry such an allure? Well for starters, it is incredibly uncommon. Golf Digest, who has been accumulating hole-in-one statistics since the early 1950s, estimates that an average amateur’s chance of getting a hole-in-one is 12,000 to 1. (For more of Golf Digest’s numbers, see “What Are The Odds?” sidebar on page 72.)

In over 25,000 rounds of golf last year, Peninsula State Park Golf Course only recorded nine aces, seven of them on what many consider the county’s easiest par 3, the 70-yard cliff hole of number 8. Idlewild’s Randy Meyer estimates that they only see between six and eight holes-in-one each year.

Hole-in-one insurance companies across the country make small fortunes knowing these odds and betting against the uncommon miracle. Premiums for golf events cost between $250 and $500 and depend on the following factors:  the length of the hole, the number of participants, who is playing, and the prize being offered.

We all have played in outings that offer a new car or $10,000 cash, but how many golfers do we know that actually cashed in? Pete Peterson of Egg Harbor beat the odds last September when he sunk his tee shot on number 11 at the Orchard’s Red Cross Outing, winning an all-expense paid vacation (but missed out on the $10,000 cash offered on the next par 3).

Even though the hole-in-one seems to draw the most attention, it is not the most exceptional feat in golf. A hole-in-one is really just an eagle (two under par), while the double eagle (a two on a par 5) is much more uncommon and undoubtedly more impressive.

There are only 200 to 250 double eagles recorded each year, compared to the approximate 40,000 holes-in-one claimed annually. A double eagle requires two skillful shots, while an ace calls for just one – and not always a skillful one.

Brian Baus, Director of Golf Operations at Horseshoe Bay Golf Club, lays claim to witnessing quite possibly one of the ugliest holes-in-one in history. In 1995, as a course marshal at Eagle Ridge in Galena, Illinois he witnessed a man tee off with his driver on a 190-yard par 3. The ball hooked left to right across a giant oak tree, hit a rock wall on the opposite side of the green, darted back across the green, rattled around the oak tree, bounced off a bunker rake, and promptly plopped in the hole.

Clearly, it is not strictly a test of skill. If it were, then obviously the best golfers would have the most. Or even if it just followed the common law of averages, then the golfer who played more rounds would have more aces to boast.

But neither is the case for 80-year-old Bill Boettcher, one of Sturgeon Bay’s most seasoned and revered golfers. Boettcher has been playing golf (really good golf) for 65 years. He has shot his age every year since he was 65. The man has scored three double eagles…yes, three! But, as far as an ace goes? Not a single one. “I can’t explain it,” Boettcher laughs. “I’ve had a lot of close calls, but none of them in.”

“It takes skill to get it on the green, but it takes luck to get in the hole,” reflects Jason Daubner, head golf pro at Peninsula. The ball doesn’t know your name, and the hole-in-one gods never discriminate between the beginner or the veteran golfer.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of getting your first hole-in-one!” exclaimed Susie Sampson who ended her aceless drought last year at Horseshoe Bay. Just last year, Jim Rossol of Baileys Harbor ended his 53-year dearth with an ace at The Orchards. Dick Hartl’s playing partners were actually teasing him about his long-standing drought at the time he promptly plunked his tee shot in on Alpine’s number 6.

If you think about it, and from a physdclv09i01-fairways-scorecardics standpoint, it truly is an amazing shot – for this tiny ball only 1.68 inches in diameter to travel over a hundred yards and land inside of a hole just 4.25 inches around. And, as so many of us know, hole-in-one lightening can strike anyone, at anytime, and sometimes under the timeliest of circumstances.

In the early ‘80s, a hole-in-one by Harley Holt on number 17 sent Doug Ferdon packing after a tightly contested match at the Resorters’ Tournament at Peninsula. Their hard fought match, and Holt’s timely ace (one of Holt’s six lifetime holes-in-one, all at Peninsula) still goes down as one of the most exciting endings to a match in tournament history.

Playing a round of golf at the infamous Spyglass Course at Pebble Beach in California? About $360. Playing Spyglass in a tournament, carding a one on number 3 with the Pacific Ocean at your back, and going on to win the tournament? Priceless. Maxwelton Braes’ pro, Paul Becker, did exactly that during the Mizzuno Pro Am several years ago.

What better time for Kay Lehmkuhl to hit her ace than just two holes after her husband Jack did the same thing. It made for a special round of golf and a place in the history books as one of only a few married couples in the universe to have accomplished such a feat (see “The Only One For Me” sidebar on page 69).

And as some of us unfortunately attest, aces can occur at the most untimely of circumstances.

Three years ago, Jim Musiel and his wife were enjoying nine holes at the popular couples outings at Maxwelton Braes. In this particular format, each team (couple) was required to play at least one shot during each hole. Otherwise, the couple was assessed a one-stroke penalty.

Of course, Jim decides to hit his first and only hole-in-one that day on number 8. But since his wife Joanie, obviously did not touch her clubs, they were assessed a penalty stroke and actually scored a two. “That was painful, real painful – to actually get a hole-in-one, but not be able to mark it on my scorecard,” recalls Musiel.

Richard Brisch of Egg Harbor was playing in a foursome of friends in Texas when he experienced his untimely “hole-in-three.” Approaching a 190-yard par 3, with a stiff headwind and water on the right, he errantly hooked his tee shot into the water. “Everyone was laughing at me, so I teed it up right away.” This time, he dunked it in the hole. Brisch got the last laugh as he scored a three while none of his friends scored better than a six.

Asked if it was like hitting the right lottery numbers on the wrong day, Brisch replied, “Well, kind of. But I got more satisfaction out of that shot than my hole-in-one,” referring to the one ace to his name. “Psychologically, it’s much more difficult to hit a good shot after you just dunked one in the water.”

My husband, Bob Spielman, played nearly 35 years before he finally hit his first hole-in-one a few years ago at Maxwelton Braes’ number 17. He never minded playing solo, but not on this particular day. After sinking his tee shot, he longingly looked and waited around the tee, hoping…praying that a witness would emerge.

dclv09i01-fairways-susie-samsonAs he came into the clubhouse after finishing his round, Todd Nelson of Sister Bay approached him and exclaimed, “Bobby, I just saw my first hole-in-one today!” Bob excitedly asked, “You saw it?” Unfortunately, Todd was referring to Clark Erickson’s hole-in-one on the front nine that, ironically, occurred that same evening, probably just minutes away from Bob’s ace.

According to the United States Golf Association, at least one individual must attest to the hole-in-one for it to technically count. Bob knows it happened and although he does not officially acknowledge his hole-in-one, he simply explains, “I didn’t wait this long to lie about getting a hole-in-one.”

As for me, I’ve had two. The first was beginner’s luck. The second was just dumb luck. But both are full of good memories. My first one happened in Gulf Shores, Alabama in my early years of the game. It was a good shot, but a blind one so I never actually had the pleasure of watching it go in. We looked on the green, in front of the green, and behind the green until my husband said, “There’s only one other place it could be.”

My second one – it’s nothing I’m proud of. Two years ago, I knocked it in on number 8 at Peninsula, the unsightly way so many before me have scored an ace. I chunked my tee shot, the ball banked off the hill and shot directly into the hole, instantly turning an awful shot into an all-night celebration. I was so excited, I body slammed my friend and playing partner Jake Samuels, who thankfully prevented us both from tumbling over the cliff.

Trekking down the steep, wooded path to the green below, I apologized for my ugly ace. Eric Fess, a Peninsula regular, who happened to get paired up with Jake and me that morning consoled me by saying, “You know what? The scorecard doesn’t tell how it happened – it just shows a one.”

I plucked my Titleist from the hole with the flag still in it. I held the pin while my playing partners putted out. I felt my heart rate calm. I slowly pulled my pencil out of my pocket and did what I realized at the time I may never do again – scratch a single vertical slash on my scorecard.

The Only One For Me

Sturgeon Bay couple, Jack and Kay Lehmkuhl, lay claim to one of the more amazing hole-in-one stories in the country, let alone Door County. It’s the stuff worthy of ESPN or the Golf Channel. The two of them each recorded a hole-in-one while playing together in the same round of golf. At first, this may not seem that incredible, but the odds of this happening are astronomical – an estimated 19 million to one.

It was October 25, 2007 at Ironwood Golf Club in Arizona, when the couple decided to play a quick nine holes with friends on the back nine before dark. Jack teed off on number 15, the 178-yard par 3 and yelled his signature, “Go in!” It did. This was Jack’s sixth hole-in-one, which in itself is amazing, but what happened two holes from then made this particular ace the most special of them all.

The men teed off on number 17 while the ladies tee box lay up ahead. “The guys were talking to these people in a nearby swimming pool and telling them about Jack’s hole-in-one,” recalls Kay. “So I just drove up to the ladies tee and teed off.” She yelled, “Well, go in!” It did. This was Kaye’s second ace.

“Leave it up to Kay to not let me celebrate my hole-in-one for more than two holes,” laughed Jack.

Mike Woldt, owner of Woldt’s in Sturgeon Bay and a friend of the couple, just happened to ride along in the cart that evening. A golfer in his own right, Woldt exclaimed, “I never had a hole-in-one or witnessed one, and here I witnessed two in one day!”

The group celebrated in traditional style, ordering drinks for friends to share in their special day, but Woldt ended up picking up the tab. “I never understood why someone should get penalized for getting a hole-in-one. People should be buying them drinks!”

“We were just out for a quick nine holes and it turned out to be a very special day,” reflects Kay.

dclv09i01-fairways-LehmkuhlWhat Are The Odds?

Golf Digest has been collecting statistics on holes-in-one since 1952 and is considered the leading authority on statistical odds of the ace.

Tour player making an ace:  3,000 to 1

Low-handicap golfer making an ace:  5,000 to 1

Average golfer making an ace:  12,000 to 1

Tour player acing designated hole:  14,000 to 1

Low-handicap golfer acing designated hole:  20,000 to 1

Average player acing designated hole:  48,000 to 1

Average player acing 150-yard hole:  80,000 to 1

Average player acing 200-yard hole:  150,000 to 1

Two average players, same foursome, acing same hole:  17 million to 1

Two family members making two aces in the same round:  19 million to 1

Low-handicap golfer making two aces in same round:  67 million to 1

Three aces in a single round, same player:  2 trillion to 1