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Thrill of making an ace depends on who's watching, and other hole-in-one stories

Josh Sens
Sara Sens
The author has this photo to remember his ace at the 11th hole at Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont., but he didn't get the kind of celebration he was hoping for.

In the wide world of sports, few achievements ring more hollow than a hole-in-one without a witness.

But what about a hole-in-one without a witness who gives a hoot?

In my 30 years of playing, I’ve made two aces. The first, 10 years ago (8-iron from 150; one hop; jar), happened in the midst of a big-money match against three high-stakes gambling buddies, and the “1” on my card put $500 in my back pocket. But the biggest payoff wasn’t the windfall. It was the thrill of the experience, shared with fellow golfers who understood the meaning of the moment. Money comes and goes (in our next match, in fact, my buddies got me back). But collective golfing memories never die. They live on at the bar, and long beyond.

My second ace took place just last week, but this one did nothing for my bank account, and very little for my psychic line. It was a warm summer morning, and I was whipping through a round at the Yellowstone Club, a sweet private retreat in the mountains of Montana. I was on a family vacation, and for the first time in nearly 13 years of marriage, I’d asked my wife to join me for 18. A non-golfer, she’d begrudgingly agreed, on the condition that she could ride shotgun in the cart, the better to focus on her needlepoint.

The Yellowstone Club’s Tom Weiskopf course is a scenic design that offers stunning views and the ego-boosting benefits of golf at altitude. On the first hole, a downhill par 4, I launched an uncharacteristically titanic drive that seemed to hang forever on the horizon, like a morning star in the clear Montana sky. Had I been playing in a fourball, it would have earned me fist-bumps and congratulations. What I got instead was silence: a sign of things to come.

The course was nearly empty, and I breezed through the front nine, striping shots as I rarely do when someone’s watching. In less than an hour, I stood on the tee box of the 134-yard par-3 11th, pitching wedge in hand. For the first time that day, my wife took notice, but not in me or my unusually fine ball-striking. Two baby moose were grazing in the gulley before the green.

“So beautiful!” she cried. She brandished her iPhone and started snapping pictures.

I had other interests. I waggled, swung and hit a lazy draw that landed a foot right of the flagstick, spun, rolled and vanished in the cup.

“Hole in one!” I called out, thrusting my arms skyward. But that would be the extent of my celebration. There was no one to high-five, no one to share in the exultation.

My wife set down her iPhone.

“Is that good?” she said, fixing me with an unblinking, moose-like stare.

Some 15 minutes later, when she’d finished snapping photos of the local wildlife, we drove to the green, where my wife took yet another picture: a canned-looking shot of me plucking my Titleist from the cup.

I’ll always have that digital memento. But it’s a poor replacement for the collective thrill of an ace recorded before one’s golfing cohort.

That hole-in-one took place just one week ago. But my memory of it is fading quickly. Like the sound of a tree falling in an empty forest, I’m starting to wonder if it happened at all.

Here are some more stories of holes in ones and near misses by Sports Illustrated, Golf Magazine and staffers:

Jessica Marksbury, Assistant Editor, Golf Magazine
I had my first and only hole-in-one on No. 9 at my home course, Calimesa Country Club in Calimesa, Calif., in July 2001. I had just turned 16 and it happened to be my dad's birthday. We were partners in our annual summer twilight league, and in the midst of a tight match. No. 9 is a short par 3, under 100 yards from the front tees, but the green is small and you need to hit over a deep ravine. My dad and I had probably played that hole a thousand times before, and we both had numerous close calls but never had a hole-in-one. On that evening, I hit a pitching wedge that was right on the flag from the beginning, but the ball stopped at what looked like an inch short of the hole. As I turned away to pick up my tee, my dad said, "It went in! It went in!" The ball had dropped in while my back was turned! Needless to say, we won the hole, and it's been a great memory ever since.

Jessica Marksbury
Jessica Marksbury at Half Moon Bay Golf Links in Half Moon Bay, Calif.


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