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

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

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.
Sara Sens

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.


Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated
Valley Brook Golf Course in River Vale, N.J., 12th hole [pictured below], playing 155 with pin front left just behind a bunker. I hit a soft 7-iron that started left of the flag and faded back toward it. As it came down, I said to the two guys I was playing with, "If it gets over the bunker it's gonna be good." When it finally hit, there was distinctive sound of ball striking pin, but he ball was nowhere to be seen. No one knew what happened. I said, "It either went in the hole or shot off the green." When we got up to the green, there was a divot in the rim of the cup and the ball was in the hole, on the fly. Slam dunk. Thank you very much.

Valley Brook Golf Course in River Vale, N.J., 12th hole

Kevin Purcell
The 12th hole Valley Brook Golf Course in River Vale, N.J.


John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated
I've never had an ace, but I once made a "hole-in-three." It happened a few years back on the Pete Dye course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif. I was taking a playing lesson from Rob Stanger, a terrific teacher who was a contributor when it was At the island-green 17th, a par 3 similar to Dye's famous 17th at TPC Sawgrass, I hit an 8-iron to a front-center pin placement. I hit it great, right at the flag, but I took my eyes off the ball and stared at the clubface on the backlash to make sure it was in the 12 o'clock position with the shaft parallel to the ground, the correct position for a straight ball flight. So I didn't really see my ball plunge into the water, a yard short of the green. I heard the plunk.

"Perfect shot," Rob said. "Wrong club. Try it again with the seven." Looking around, he spotted a striped ball from the adjoining practice range. He scooped it up and tossed it to me.

So I re-teed with the range ball, put an identical swing on it with the 7-iron, and hit another solid shot straight at the flag. And just as before, I pulled the club down from my follow-through and checked the clubface. "Right on the number," I said, or something like that.

"Hey!" Rob was beaming. "You made it!"

His words didn't register. First of all, I wasn't watching the ball. Secondly, the bottom of the flagstick was concealed by a mound. You couldn't see a ball on the green.

"Yeah, but I know that sound," he said. "It hit the pin and dropped." He was laughing. "Have you ever made a hole-in-one?"

I said I had not — and on quick reflection, I realized that I still hadn't. I had pulled off a variation of Fred Couples' memorable par in the PLAYERS Championship, where he had salvaged a par on the famous 17th by re-teeing and holing out. "It would be a hole-in-three," I said, still not certain that Rob was right about my shot going in. But he was. When we got up to the green, ball one was just visible in the murky water in front of the green. Ball two was in the hole.

I still keep that range ball in the ball pocket of my carry bag. It's not a good-luck charm. It just gives me a chuckle every time I see it.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor,
I was on the 11th hole at Pound Ridge [pictured below], the Pete Dye course outside New York City. I was playing with a co-worker and a couple other guys. Pured a 4-iron at the flag, 200 yards. When it landed, we thought it might have gone in but we weren't sure — it was too far away. We jumped in the cart and raced up and sure enough it had dropped. (I always figured my first hole in one would be lucky, a skulled 9-iron that hit the pin and fell in.) I was kind of in shock afterward and played the next hole with the same ball, which I promptly lost in the woods on the way to a triple bogey.

Pound Ridge Golf Club

Pound Ridge Golf Club
The 11th hole at Pound Ridge.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated
I've been lucky enough to have two aces. The second came about six years ago at my home course, Jericho National Golf Club in Washington Crossing, Pa. I was playing the 12th hole, with Dick Mahony and Mike O'Hara. It is a relatively benign par 3 of about 130 yards. On this day the pin was cut back-right, and for some reason, the blue tees, which I always play, had been moved up to the lower box. The hole was playing about 115 yards, but it was basically a blind shot to an elevated green, with only the top of the flag visible. I nipped a pitching wedge, and while the ball was in the air, I said, "I think that's really good." But for one simple reason, I didn't think I had jarred the shot. That's because the maintenance worker who was trimming around a bunker on the hill to the left of the green, and had a bird's-eye view for my shot, didn't so much as flinch when my ball went in the hole. When we got to the green, all I saw was a ball mark about two feet behind the pin. I have been playing at Jericho since the day it opened in May 1999. I have hit exactly one shot from the lower tee at the 12th.


Eamon Lynch, executive editor, Golf Magazine
The skies were angry that day, my friends. In late 2004 I played the Straits course at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, on a day so foggy that I teed off on all four par 3s without a clear view of the flag. At the 197-yard 17th—aptly named Pinched Nerve—I stood over a 4-iron, but when I glanced back at the green it was lost in a thick, gray mist off Lake Michigan. But, like George Costanza wading into the waters to save that whale, I ignored my better instincts and pulled the trigger. It remains the only good shot I've ever hit on that hole: my pitch mark was a few feet short of the cup and my ball rested three inches from the rim. It remains my closest brush with a '1', a fact I'm often reminded of by my brother-in-law, Mat, a terrible golfer who made his ace a decade ago. He has the scorecard framed in his basement. That '1' helped him shoot 99.

Whistling Straits, 17th hole

Getty Images
Martin Kaymer tees off on the par-3 17th hole at Whistling Straits at the 2010 PGA Championship.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer,
In 2002 I was in my early 20s and living in a second-floor bachelor pad in suburban Detroit that overlooked the seventh hole of a par-3 executive course that wound through the apartment complex. The track charged $10 for a round, but I’d slip out my back door and play a few holes at dusk at least a couple of times a week. No. 7 was 145 yards, slightly uphill, and there were two large oaks on the front-left and front-right of the green, so you had to hit a straight, boring shot to make the putting surface. The oak on the left regularly gobbled up my low-fade shots. I always wanted to sneak out one night and chainsaw that damn thing down.

Anyway, one summer night, I hopped off my couch, grabbed my 8-iron, putter and one ball and strolled out to play the seventh hole while the Detroit Tigers game went to commercial. The sky was black, but the exterior lights from the apartment buildings gave me enough of a look to put a tee in the ground and take a swing. When I made contact, I knew I flushed it, but I never saw the ball come off the face of the club. I never heard it land.

As I walked up the rise to the green, squinting into the dark, I couldn’t see my ball. My neighbor, a twenty-something slacker who had — I was always pretty sure — an affinity for marijuana, was sitting in a folding chair on his balcony staring into the night.  I hadn’t noticed him perched there until his voice cut through the dark:

“Nice f—— shot, dude.”

“Where is it?” I asked. Turns out the ball had somehow come to rest right behind the cup — no more than three inches off the lip. My stoned neighbor said my Titleist caught the edge of the hole on its way by, and gently rimmed out.

I tapped in with my 8-iron for birdie, and to this day that’s the closest I’ve ever come to an ace.

Those are the breaks, dude.

Somerset Apartments Golf Course, Troy, Mich.

Somerset Apartments Golf Course, Troy, Mich.

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