Sometimes, sobering moments occur that change your life, your outlook on life, or just the way you think of the things you have. I’ve recently lost two uncles in tragic fashion–both likely heart disease, both well before their times. Although only one of them was a golfer, they both impacted my life positively, and I’m thankful for the experiences I had along the way with them. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate–or good for our readership–if I posted my entire life experience on a golf blog, but I felt a little background as to why this series was being presented was important.

What got me thinking about writing this series was my uncle who was a golfer. I visited him in Pennsylvania when I was no more than 14 years old…I actually don’t remember the specifics, just that I was a golf nut and he volunteered to take me to the prestigious Indiana Country Club (in Indiana, PA). During that round, on Indiana CC’s signature par 3 over water, my uncle hit the ball to 6 inches from the hole. I was astounded. One comment he made astounded me even more. As he walked up to tap in his birdie, he stated off-hand “I’ve been playing the game for decades, hit probably hundreds of shots just like this, and never had a hole in one. Oh well. That’s golf.”

As I look back on it now, I wish I had had the chance to talk with him more. I wish we’d had the opportunity to shoot the shit about all things golf and life. No doubt he had a great many stories of life and golf intersecting that I could’ve learned from. But, more so, just learning about the highlights of his life and rounds of golf would’ve been enough. In any career of more than a few years, there are literally hundreds of shots to remember, to ponder, to tell stories about. His are gone forever, and only a few people scattered across the globe will know them. Part of the beauty of modern technology is our ability to capture a slice of ourselves in time and hold it in place in the memory of a computer or the internet. The PF blog helps LG and I communicate with all of you, but it also helps us convey stories to each other and to preserve some of the great memories we’ve had playing this beautiful game.

With that, I think it’s incredibly important to preserve the memories of my aces. You see, at the moment my uncle said those fateful words about never having hit a hole in one, I had already logged my first, and it was its own remarkable story.

Time to go foggy nostalgia on you all for a minute.

Flash back to the summer of 1997. Think about what you were doing, what was in, what was important. The dotcom bubble was blowing to a beautiful inflated awesomeness that we may never see again. Bill Clinton was practicing his indiscretions with White House interns. Me? I was a 13 year old kid going to see his best friend in Arkansas for the first time in years. My very first trip on a plane, and I flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, to then drive several hours to El Dorado. When you’re a kid, you don’t really care where you go, as long as it’s with someone you want to be around. My best friend, BW, was a little older than me. We thought we were so cool. Even though there’s basically nothing to do in the “city” of El Dorado, Arkansas, we found ourselves playing tennis (neither of us knew anything of the game), caring for his Basset Hounds, and–amazingly–playing golf.

I say it was amazing that we were playing golf for a lot of reasons. The obvious was that neither of us were wealthy. I had always learned golf from my Dad, who didn’t really have a great deal of grasp on the finer points of the game, but he loved it always. BW had never really had that kind of leadership. His Dad kind of played, but wasn’t really into the game. So the first hurdle was that BW didn’t really have an interest in the game.

But, more importantly, we didn’t have equipment! BW’s only set was a bunch of Ben Hogan blades and a couple of wooden fairway woods and driver (even in 1997, wooden head fairway woods were pretty obsolete). However, BW didn’t even have a golf bag to put the clubs in, or any number of golf balls. How in the world were we going to play golf?

Well, I did get an engineering degree eventually, and my early engineer shone through that day. BW and I put a 3, 5, 7, and 9 iron, driver, and 3 wood in a black garbage bag to take to the course. We didn’t have golf shoes, so we just wore tennis shoes. We had cargo pants, and we put as many golf balls into the pockets as we could find. Each of us had maybe 8 golf balls total. BW made a point to bring his special “birdie ball,” the ball he had used to make his first birdie. I still remember that it was a Maxfli with an “El Dorado CC” logo on the side. Crazy times.

BW and I marched our way up to the Lion Club Municipal Golf Course–the goat track of all goat tracks. To this day, I have still not stepped foot on a worse course. All of the grass on the entire course had been infested with a fungus so that enormous patches were mere dust. The greens…what greens? They just stuck a pin in the middle of a flat part and called it a green, maybe threw down some grass seed that wasn’t growing in the middle of the summer in Arkansas. This. Was. A. Hole. But we didn’t see it like that. BW and I were just being the kids that we were, going out to have a good time, and if that meant golfing, so be it. We each paid our $5 greens fee and walked to the first tee.

Now, neither of us were great golfers at the time, but I could hold my own. I shot under 100 sometimes, but usually under 110, which isn’t bad for a 13 year old. But this day, I was not having it. I topped shots, I sliced shots, I shanked shots…it was the worst round of golf I’d played in awhile. by the 5th hole, I had posted two 9s, an 8, and a 7. Worse, in anger I had thrown the last ball in my pocket into the trees after carding a 7 on the prior hole. I looked at BW for a ball. It was his last one too–the birdie ball. He warned me to be careful with it–in fact, it was his first birdie ball. I assured him that I would.

The par 3 fifth hole was only about 150 yards. On a calm day in Arkansas, that’s really not a tough distance to hit. Nonetheless, as I walked up to the tee, I remembered something I had read in a golf digest magazine. It was a piece about hitting consistent shots, which stated that you should be able to swing and hit the ball 75% of your usual distance to get your tempo set up, and then gradually work back up to the full distance over time. I decided my consistency was off, and I would try to hit this shot 75% or less. I pulled out the 5-iron (usually a 7-iron shot for me) teed up the birdie ball, and swung. The first pure shot I hit all day. It flew up in the air like a baloon, floated high but true, straight at the pin.

BW stated “nice shot……..VERY nice shot.”

the ball landed directly on line with the pin. I thought to myself “It was a very nice shot inde……..WAIT! DID THE PIN JUST MOVE?!?!?!”


Not even worrying about BW’s shot, I started walking toward the hole, my heart beating fast as I imagined what might be. I slowly approached the green, tiptoed up to the hole, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, turned my head to look down, and opened my eyes. The ball was in the hole!!!!

Pandemonium erupted. BW and I went crazy. It was unlike anything else I’d ever seen on a golf course. Finally, I had done something special.

But our elation was met with a bit of tempering–the ball was, in fact, the last ball we had. Neither BW nor I wanted to lose that ball. So, we walked past the next two holes, walked into the shack of a pro shop, and called BW’s mom to pick us up and take us home. We had been out for barely more than an hour when we should’ve been out for 4 or 5, but we were not going to lose that ball. I came back to Atlanta. My story was written up in the local paper, with picture from the local junior event. Maxfli sent me a hat. Ben Hogan Company sent me a letter congratulating me on my hole in one. For a little bit, it was pretty special.

Times change, and BW and I have spent less and less time together as the years have gone by, although we’re still great friends and talk every several months or so. He’s endured what many people cannot imagine in his life, and I pray for him often. But I guarantee that the times he thinks of this story, he remembers the joy of being a kid again and that once-in-a-lifetime type moment that we shared together.

I still have the birdie ball here on my shelf. I pick it up from time to time and reminisce about that day. What would’ve happened if we had a few more golf balls? No one will ever know. I still don’t know what the last 13 holes of the Lion Club play like, and I probably never will. Still, I remember that day like it just happened.

All of that said, my uncle’s tragic death helped me realize that I have forgotten as much as I remember about my life and these experiences. I wished his memories were somewhere that I could read them. Hopefully, someday when I’m gone, these memories will be around for my children to read and think about the good times that I remembered.

Anyway, that’s the story of my first ace. Stay tuned…I’ve got 4 more to talk about, and a few other interesting moments too.