Two years ago a 73-year-old golfer named Eric Johnson achieved a lifetime dream by scoring an ace at the Queen's Park Golf Club in Southland, New Zealand. He died a few hours later. A fellow named Bill Higginbotham of Terre Haute, Ind., didn't have to wait nearly that long for his ace. One March day in 1963 Higginbotham, then 25, and his buddy Jerry Rice were sitting in Bill Griffith's barbershop when Rice and Griffith decided to play nine holes at nearby Linton Municipal. Higginbotham tagged along and was coaxed into giving the game a try. He picked up a borrowed seven-iron, knocked his tee shot on number 1 into a hill near the green and watched it bounce a few times and roll into the cup. It was not only the first hole of golf he ever played; it was the first time he ever took a swing.
Almost as lucky as Higginbotham was one David Terpoilli of West Norristown, Pa., who, during an October 1994 corporate outing at Whitemarsh Country Club, fired a 123-over 193 that included an ace on the 128-yard 16th. Here was Terpoilli's back nine: 9-21-9-16-11-13-1-11-9-100. "I haven't picked up a club since," says Terpoilli. "How could I ever top that?"
Speaking of topping, consider the peculiar tale of Charles Mellanakos and John Bariahtaris at the Nabnasset Lake (Mass.) Country Club in 1960. At the 125-yard 2nd, Mellanakos hit his tee shot into the cup. Bariahtaris then did the same, except that his ball bounced out because it hit Mellanakos's ball. That's no weirder than what happened to Dean Colbert and his brother Ken on the 9th hole at River View Golf Course in Santa Ana, Calif., in 1977. Dean left his ball a few inches from the hole. Ken hit next, and his well-struck drive nudged Dean's ball into the cup. According to match-play rules in effect at the time, Dean could play the ball where it stopped or replace it. Guess which he chose. That rule was changed in 1984, and now, in stroke and match play, the ball must be replaced.
One amateur, Joe Lucius, has made a record 13 aces at one hole, the 15th at the Mohawk Golf Club in Tiffin, Ohio; there's even a plaque at the tee to commemorate the feat. But my partners and I are 800 balls into our experiment at Seaview's 17th, and we have no holes in one. I am prepared for this, but it's starting to frustrate the pros, who are now trying to "ugly in" an ace, hitting cut nine-irons and even pounding eight-irons into the bank in front of the green to get a roll. It shouldn't be this hard, they believe. Sam Snead claims to have made a hole in one with every club except the putter. That contrasts with the experience of Faldo, who scored all five of his aces with a six-iron, and LPGA veteran Debbie Massey, who made her six with a five-iron.
If Larry Nishi were at the tee with us, I bet we would have a hole in one. Two summers ago at the Mid-Pacific Country Club of Honolulu, the 69-year-old Nishi hit a five-iron into the cup on the 145-yard 4th hole. Two holes later, on the 186-yard, into-the-wind 6th, Nishi pulled out a five-wood and holed out again. "Funny thing is," says Nishi, a 14 handicapper who had two previous aces, "I clipped the pin on 11, the next par-3." Nishi came out ahead on the deal, incidentally: The traditional buy-for-the-house punishment for aces cost him about $350, but he collected a $500 pro-shop gift certificate from a fund to which members at Mid-Pacific kick in $2 each.
Or maybe we need Idaho State golfer Shane Langstaff. the second day of practice two years ago, Langstaff, who Columbus, Mont., used an eight-iron to ace the 162-yard 2nd hole at the Riverside Golf Course in Pocatello. Shortly afterward he pulled out a wedge and aced the 147-yard 4th. After the round Langstaff bought $5 worth of state lottery tickets. He didn't win.
Holes in one have been hit by mechanical golfers, such as the USGA's Iron Byron (five in 1985) and Ping's Pingman (one in 1993), and by mechanical crooners, such as Perry Como and Vic Damone. Bing Crosby scored an ace, and so did Alice Cooper, without face paint. Bob Hope has six holes in one; that's five more than Couples.
On May 15, 1960, Gummo Marx used a three-iron to ace the 155-yard 2nd at Tamarisk Country Club in Palm Springs, Calif., a feat witnessed by his brothers Harpo and Zeppo. The mind reels at what that scene might have been: Harpo dancing around and waving that silly hat while Gummo shakes his head and smiles.
Joe DiMaggio donated a TV set as a hole-in-one prize at a 1966 tournament at the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, Calif., and then hit an eight-iron into the cup on the 140-yard 15th for the only ace of the competition. There is no report on whether he reclaimed the set.
Though politicians are most frequently seen conking spectators in the head with right-angle duck hooks, several have had holes in one. The Sept. 5, 1961, issue of Golf Digest includes the Official Hole-in-One Clearinghouse Application Form filled out and sent in by Richard Nixon after he aced the 2nd hole at the Bel Air Country Club. on Sept. 4. Age: 44. Address: Los Angeles. Handicap: 18. Right-handed. Spalding club, five-iron; Spalding ball. Nixon later called it "the greatest thrill in my life—even better than being elected." Can't you just see the Trickster striding up the fairway in a pair of garish red pants, an awkward grin on his face, waving to or saluting an imaginary crowd and thinking, Take that, JFK! Nixon finished with a 91 that day and said he lost three bucks. Six-and-a-half years later, Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, had a hole in one at the 153-yard 11th hole at Webhannet Golf Club in Kennebunk Beach, a course later played by President George Bush. Muskie's ace was hardly a harbinger of political luck: Eight months later he and Hubert Humphrey lost the presidential election to Nixon and Spiro Agnew.