May Was Hole-in-One Month, Apparently

I was contacted recently by a lawyer who was looking for someone to serve as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving a hole-in-one prize. After last month, I almost qualify.

Eleven friends and I played Ballybunion, in Ireland, in early May. On the third hole, Addison made a hole-in-one from the back tee: 230 yards, downhill but into a stiff wind. My group was just leaving the fourth tee, and we watched his ball roll into the hole. There’s a plaque on the third tee commemorating a hole-in-one that Payne Stewart made from the same spot in 1998, the year before he died, during a buddies trip with Mark O’Meara and Tiger Woods. Here’s Addison:

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We returned home a week later, and in an effort to outsmart jet lag I pretty much went straight from the airport to my home course (after stopping by my house, briefly, to reintroduce myself to my wife). There were five of us, and on the seventh hole, which is slightly more than half as long as the third hole at Ballybunion, I made a hole-in-one:

P1180521-001Two weeks after that, Chris, during his first round ever with the Sunday Morning Group, made a hole-in-one on our twelfth hole, which is 185 yards long. Nobody in his group could see that far, so they weren’t sure his ball had really gone in until they got to the green. In the photo below, which was taken by Mike B., he’s retrieving his ball from the cup:
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And in the photo below, which was taken by me, Mike B. is taking the photo above:

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You can’t document these things too thoroughly (I learned from the lawyer who contacted me). Here’s my scorecard:

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One thing to note: Chris is beaming in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during our regular Sunday morning game you receive $500 from the Slush Fund. And Addison is smiling in his photograph because if you make a hole-in-one during an SMG-sanctioned event (meaning one that everyone on the email list was invited to participate in) you receive $250 from the Slush Fund. And I’m sort of frowning in my photograph because that post-Ireland round of mine was a last-minute thing that nobody bothered to invite everyone else to—so my Slush Fund prize was $0.

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Golfer Takes Photo of Hole-in-one

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Don S., a member of my brother’s golf club and, therefore, an honorary-member-once-removed of the Sunday Morning Group, sent me several photographs of a hole-in-one made recently by my brother, John. I asked John about it, and he said, “It was my second lifetime hole-in-one and my second on that hole. The first time—about 15 years ago—I hit an 8-iron. This time, it was a 5-iron.” Here it is from a different angle:

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I guess that mere photography doesn’t do it justice, but the pictures brought to mind a memorable shot of my own: a gorgeous 7-iron, drawing slightly, that hit the flagstick on the fly on the third hole at my own club roughly 20 years ago. From the tee, my friends and I could see that the ball had wedged itself between the stick and the front of the cup. I didn’t hoot or jump up and down. I walked to the green at my normal pace, wearing an expression of placid nonchalance which said, “This is how I play golf.”

When we reached the green, we realized that my ball wasn’t actually in the hole but was merely perched on its front edge. There was a deep ball-shaped dent in the turf just above the back of the cup, and the dent, the flagstick and the ball were aligned perfectly — a physical impossibility, you would think. Had the ball dematerialized briefly after bouncing off the rim, then passed, undeflected, through the stick? I had to write 2 on the scorecard, but I’ve always thought of it as a 1. The next day, I played again and used my thumb to press my dent, which was still visible, more deeply into the rim. “My ball did that,” I said to the people I was playing with. “It should have been a hole-in-one.”

Golf, a famously unfair game, never seems more unfair than when it narrowly withholds the only laurel that non-golfers are impressed by. Unlucky bounces off trees or sprinkler heads don’t bother me; I accept them as the rub of the green. But that almost-ace still rankles. A couple of years later, I made an official hole-in-one—in a tournament, no less—and got my name added to a plaque in the golf shop. But when I see the plaque I can’t help thinking, “I ought to be on there twice.”

Almost as bad as just missing a hole-in-one is making one and not receiving credit for it. On a trip to Ireland in 2001, five friends and I played a round at the Portmarnock Pitch and Putt Club, a micro-scale links course not far from the full-size Portmarnock Golf Club.

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In Irish pitch and putt, the maximum hole length is seventy meters—about seventy-seven yards. One of my friends, looking over the compact layout from behind the first tee, asked the club’s captain how often players made holes-in-one, and he said, “Not as often as you’d think.” Ten minutes later, though, we heard a shout on the far side of the course: an ace. Ten minutes after that, I made one myself, on a fifty-meter hole. “I guess I owe everybody a beer,” I said expansively. One of my friends gave me a look. “It wasn’t even sixty yards,” he said.

In Florida once, I almost had my second, third, or fourth hole-in-one, depending on how you count them. I hit what may be the best-looking 6-iron I’ve ever hit, into a strong wind off the ocean, and my ball landed softly and rolled toward the hole at the speed of a confident putt. It stopped six inches away. “Unlucky,” one of my friends said. “That was almost a great shot.”

If the ball had gone in, we’d have celebrated; if it had ended up two feet farther from the hole, outside of almost-a-hole-in-one range, my friends would have toasted my brilliant shot-making, since even hitting the green in that wind was an accomplishment. As it was, though, none of us could think of anything except the thing that hadn’t happened.

Of course, I can’t actually claim responsibility for any of my shots, good or bad, lucky or unlucky. Like most golfers, I don’t so much aim at the flag as try to bracket the green with my margin of error. Even my single uncontested ace deserves as asterisk: “Player had no idea what he was doing.” Still, there’s something about a hole-in-one. Did I mention that my name is on the plaque?

Late Update: At a mixed event at my club the last weekend in September, I won a hat for hitting my tee shot on the seventh hole to an inch—another near miss:

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Rangefinders, Ivan Lendl, Lawyer Feet, a Lazy Thirty-Year-Old, a Hole-in-One, and Vegan Burgers for Dinner

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My ancient laser rangefinder, a Bushnell PinSeeker 1500 (above, left), finally stopped working. The low-battery warning began flashing and wouldn’t stop, even though I replaced the battery, twice, using fresh spares from my golf bag. As soon as I got home, I ordered a new Bushnell Tour Z6 (above, right), for three hundred dollars. The Z6 is quite a bit smaller than the PinSeeker, and it weighs almost four ounces less—a potential advantage in competition.

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The day after the Z6 arrived, I was rummaging in my desk and came across an unopened package of the kind of batteries the PinSeeker used to use. Out of curiosity, I popped one in, and—what do you know?—it worked just fine. I guess that carrying two nine-volt batteries in your golf bag for more than a year isn’t a good idea, as far as the batteries are concerned. So I now have two perfectly functioning laser rangefinders, and I’ll thank you not to mention that to my wife.

I used the Z6 for the first time on Friday, in a match at home. The match was Addison and me against Ray and our Close Personal Friend Ivan Lendl, who belongs to a couple of clubs in our area, including our Enemy Club. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that I had a short birdie putt on the eighteenth hole to square the match, and missed it. But Addison had a slightly longer birdie putt to do the same thing and made it, so good for us. We’re all square for now, and we will play a rematch at a time and place to be determined.

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In the photo above, Ivan is using his own rangefinder, which is Bushnell’s “hybrid” model. It has a laser, like mine, but it also has a GPS unit, which is sort of grafted onto the side. I asked him whether he ever used the GPS part, and he said he didn’t because the GPS part (like all GPS yardage devices) is so power-hungry that if you use it you have to recharge it after every round.

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About thirty minutes after our match was over, Addison and I played again, in the Friday-afternoon edition of the Sunday Morning Group. During that round, several unusual things happened. First, Other Gene joined us late and played without shoes or socks, giving the rest of us a close look at something you don’t see on a golf course every day: lawyer feet.

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Second, Austin, who is thirty years old and was the second youngest person playing that afternoon, took a cart after nine holes:

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Third, on the third hole—a 185-yard par 3—David W. hit a gorgeous 4-iron shot, which landed on the green, rolled toward the flag, and disappeared. Nobody in our group, including David, could see well enough to be certain what had happened, but we had a feeling. 

Because this was an S.M.G.-sanctioned outing, David will receive $250 from the Slush Fund. (An non-Sunday-morning outing is considered sanctioned if an email inviting everyone to join goes out in advance over the S.M.G. Listserv.) If David had done the same thing on a Sunday morning, he’d have received twice as much.

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That evening, my wife, Ann Hodgman—who has written several cookbooks, and is currently writing one for strict vegetarians—made vegan burgers for dinner. They contained chick peas, barley, leeks, and other stuff. (That’s the mixture, in the photo above.) They didn’t taste like burgers made from beef, but I liked them. And when I got home from playing golf the next morning I ate two more of them, right out of the fridge.

vegan burgersNow who’s a good husband?

A Hole-in-One Fund That Doesn’t Defraud Golfers

Chic paying his fifteen-dollar entry fee to Hacker before teeing off on Sunday morning. No twenties, please. Chic’s shorts (after November 1) earned him one extra handicap stroke.

The Sunday Morning Group has a five-hundred-dollar hole-in-one prize. The money comes from our regular Sunday-morning entry fee, which is fifteen dollars. (Five goes into a pool for the winning team, five goes to skins, two goes into a pot that’s shared by everyone who matches the morning’s best net score on the so-called Money Hole, which is announced before we tee off, and three goes into the S.M.G. slush fund, which pays for things like the hole-in-one prize.)  The last person to make a hole-in-one during one of our Sunday games was Reese, but he did it before we had a hole-in-one prize so he got nothing. Last week, though, Hacker (real name) decided that the slush fund had become so huge that Reese ought to get something anyway, so he gave him two hundred and fifty dollars. Reese used the money to buy liquor and other stuff for a bar at lunch:

Reese’s hole-in-one bar is on the left. That’s Howard on the right, tending the grill.

Lunch itself was provided by Howard. Our town’s grocery store had shut down its hamburger-patty-pressing machine for the winter (for some reason), so Howard had to buy ground beef in bulk and shape our cheeseburgers with his own hands—very possibly the first time that’s ever happened. He also brought two kinds of fancy mustard (but no regular mustard).

The fact that Hacker paid out a hole-in-one prize that, technically speaking, no one had earned distinguishes him from much of the rest of the golf world—which, apparently, is always thinking of reasons not to pay up. You can read about several such cases on the website GolfDisputeResolution.com, which covers “the intersection of golf and law” and was created by Rob Harris, a Connecticut lawyer. Harris writes about an especially interesting hole-in-one dispute here.

This is what Harris has to say about his own golf: “At the age of 11, on a very hot day, I lost the 9 hole junior boys championship at Tuscarora Country Club on the second hole of sudden death; I proceeded to throw up at the post-event lunch.” Hey, Harris—come join us on Sunday. You’ll fit right in.

These two were curled up in the Dumpster during lunch on Sunday. Gary, our superintendent, says they come and go.