Category Archives: golf stories

Birdie at the Road Hole

Almost nine years ago, I wrote a small post about my small hole-in one.

In that post, I mentioned the birdie I had made on the Road Hole at St Andrews and said I would talk about that sometime later.

I guess nine years is sometime later, so here goes.

In 1968, I was between my sophomore and junior years in college. Spending a summer abroad was becoming the thing to do. My college roommate suggested the winter before that we do that. I made the pitch to my parents, and they said yes.

Now getting to Europe back then was a Big Deal, especially if you lived on the West Coast. You had to get to New York, then catch a flight over, and it wasn’t cheap. But we made it cheap.

I took a cheap flight to New York, and from there, flew on Icelandic Airlines to Luxembourg, with a stop in Iceland. The airplane was a four-engine prop that didn’t go very fast and made lots of noise.

From Luxembourg I took a train the next day to Paris, where I met up with my roommate, and we were off and running. After a few days in Paris, we headed to Jolly Old.

We stayed in London, did the town, in the middle of the Swinging Sixties, Soho, and the like. After a few days we hitchhiked to Edinburgh (which has four syllables, not three), which is really close to the town of St Andrews (Note that St has no period after it. This is correct.)

After a few days of seeing this town, we hitchhiked to St Andrews so I could play the famous course. Or tried to hitchhike. We had no luck getting a ride all the way, and had to catch a bus to complete the trip.

So there I was, at the home of golf, with an indulgent roommate.

Things were different in 1968. There was no lottery for tee times. In the middle of June, I walked up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fees, rented a half set of clubs, bought some balls and tees, and went off.

The starter said, “The first tee is over there, and when the group on it tees off, you’re next.”

It was that simple.

I have to say I didn’t know much about the course except that it was famous. It had never been on TV for a British Open because TV didn’t cover the British Open back then. All I knew was that it was famous and I had read about it when I was growing up making golf part of my life.

I hit a decent drive on the first tee, well placed for a shot into the green. I thought the best shot from where I was would be to take out a 7-iron and hit a shot short of the green that would run on. You know, still getting warmed up.

I hit the shot I wanted to, but when the ball got close to the green it disappeared. I didn’t think much of that, probably it ran down a hill into a hollow spot.

The closer I got to the green, though, the more of a bad feeling I had about the choice I had made. There was this dark line going across the fairway that kept getting wider and wider.

I got close enough to see that it was a ditch, and when I got up to it, I was introduced to the Swilcan Burn, with my ball in it. Fortunately the ditch was not that deep and I was able to get my ball back out.

I have vague memories of the holes after that. The greens were light years faster than anything I had ever played on. The double greens were (are) huge, and I hit the ball into the gorse a few times and didn’t try to play out of it.

At one point, I think it was on the sixth tee, all I could see in front of me was weeds. I had no idea where to hit the ball. Some guy coming inward saw that I was completely confused, came over to the tee, and said, “See the church steeple way over there? Aim for that and you’ll be alright.” The steeple was about a mile away, across the River Eden.

Coming in, I was getting the hang of things and having lots of fun, though you would think otherwise by looking at my scores. I might be having selective memory, but I do not remember once being in a bunker the whole time.

At last we came to the Road Hole. I knew about that. Hit your drive over the railroad sheds, hit on and get par. I was really geared up for this one shot, over the sheds.

Only the sheds weren’t there anymore. They had been torn down the year before when a hotel was built on that spot. The romance was gone, but the shot was still there, though. The hotel had built a screen that forced you to hit the same shot if you wanted to take the short line to the green.

Now I hadn’t been hitting my driver well all day, so I took out the 3-wood to make my play. I didn’t care what happened, I hadn’t made this pilgrimage to chicken out of the most famous shot in golf.

I have no idea how it happened, but I hit a brilliant shot, not even close to what I had been doing earlier, and the ball sailed over the screen with room to spare, straight as a string. I had hit the shot I had been waiting to face, nailed it, and the rest would be an afterthought, or so I felt.

I found the ball in the fairway, looking right at the green. I took out a 3-iron and took aim at a piece of the green sticking out into the fairway. There was this bunker a bit to the left that looked like you wouldn’t want to hit into. Little did I know I was looking at the Road Hole bunker, the most feared bunker in golf. In the picture of me standing on the 17th green, look how close it is to the pin.

But as you know, the Lord takes care of fools and small children. Trying a shot that makes professionals perspire just thinking about it, my second good swing in a row put the ball on the green with room to spare.

Getting to the green, my ball was about 20 feet away, and there wasn’t much to the putt. Getting it close for a par looked easy, so that’s the shot I hit. Except I didn’t get my par. The ball went in and I had birdied the most famous and arguably the hardest par 4 in the world.

Wowie! Just, wowie! I made some noise, not knowing the eighteenth tee was really close by and there were guys teeing off. Apologies from me and kudos from them.

I finished the round and couldn’t have been happier. What started off as a lifetime memory ended up as a lifetime achievement. I am one under par for life on the 17th. Not many golfers can say that. I think this is better than a hole-in-one.

Years later, in 1990, I was watching the British Open, on TV, being played at St Andrews. Nick Faldo was on the way to winning his second title. As he played the 17th on Saturday, I thought to myself, “He would give his eyeteeth to have my score on this hole right now.”

As would they all in the Opens I have watched come through my birdie hole.

My Life in Golf So Far

My father had a canvas golf bag in the basement of our house with a few hickory-shafted clubs in it. I was 8. They fascinated me. I understood that you used them to hit a ball, but I didn’t know where you might do this, or what would happen if you did hit a ball.

A few years after that, I don’t remember which came first, lessons or TV. There was a par-3 course less than two miles from where we lived, that had a driving range and a pro. My father signed me up for a group lesson. I was a weird kid. I was there to learn, and when the pro told me to do something, that’s what I did. My reward was, it worked. I could hit the ball somewhat straight and in the air.

In those days there were shows on TV named All-Star Golf and Celebrity Golf. All-Star Golf featured two touring pros playing a match, the winner getting to play another challenger the next week. Celebrity Golf was Sam Snead playing a round with a Hollywood celebrity. I watched those shows all the time.

But all that set the hook, and I was a golfer.

I lived on the other side of the school from everyone else. There was no one to play with during summer vacation, so I hit golf-sized plastic balls in my front yard all day. There was an unused patch of ground between the front lawn and the driveway that I could chew up as much as I wanted to. The ball flew just about the length of our property.

Our telephone line came in from a pole across the street to the house at about 10-12 feet in the air, and close to where my practice station was. My favorite game was to take my wedge and see how close I could get to the wire and still hit a ball over it. All on my own, I developed this very wristy pitch that gets the ball high in a big hurry, and sits when it lands. I use that shot today, and guys I play with don’t really understand what they just saw.

I was the only kid in my grade school who played golf, so I played with my father. He could get the ball around the course, but he was out there mostly to see that I got a chance to play. He’s gone now, but I still thank him for doing that.

When I got to high school, I found out there really were other kids who played golf and some of them were pretty darn good. One of them named Ernie played at an exclusive private club in town — if they want you to be a member, they’ll call. He was the gold standard until my junior year, when a kid named Mike Spang transferred into my high school.

Now I had been going to a PGA Tour event for the past few years and I had a very good idea of what a professional golf shot looked like. During tryouts for the high school golf team (which I never made) I watched Mike hit and found myself looking at something very familiar. Mike tied for the NCAA Division II individual title in 1969. A few years later he made it through Q School in the class that included Tom Watson, Bruce Fleischer, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Melnyk, John Mahaffey, Forrest Fezler, and Gary Groh. About ten or so years ago, that class had a reunion, but Mike could not be located.

One year during team qualifying, I got serious about playing as well as I could and broke 100 for the first time — 98. I still have the scorecard.

I spent about a month in Denver in summer the next year after that, staying with my aunt and uncle. I had my golf clubs with me and played the Willis Case golf course about every other day. You can hit the ball a long way in the thin air. I was getting on the green of a 195-yard par 3 with an iron. That would have ben a good drive for me at sea level, and it made me feel pretty good. One day I went to the Wellshire Golf Course, a Donald Ross design, and got hot. Shot an 84. I still have that scorecard, too.

After high school, golf tailed off due to college and military service, though when stationed at NAS Jacksonville in 1971, I played on the very fine base golf course in the evenings. That would be my last concentrated time playing golf for a long time.

Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I went to Europe for the summer with my roommate. We got to Edinburgh for some reason, and while we were there, convinced him to indulge me with a day at St. Andrews, which we got to by hitchhiking, walking and bus.

Things were different then, 1968. I went up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fee, rented a set of clubs and bought a sleeve of Slazenger golf balls. The starter said, “The first tee is over there. As soon as that group has played, you can go on.” The course ate me alive, very fast greens, and I had no idea what I how to play a course like this. But I did know about the Road Hole. I got to the 17th tee and told myself I hadn’t come all this way to chicken out. So I hit a 3-wood over the corner, hit a 3-iron onto the green (Road Hole bunker? What’s that?) and sank the 20-foot putt. My claim to fame, better than a hole-in-one will ever be.

When I got out of college, I went into the service, and after that, graduate school, got work, got married, started a family, and in the next 30 years played maybe ten rounds of golf. No time.

But when the boys grew up and left home, there was time, and I began to play again. I wasn’t very good, as you can imagine, but I had foundation of having played in my formative years, so it didn’t take too long for a good swing to come around. The best advice I can give to anyone who wants to learn how to play golf is to start when you’re ten years old.

Instead of the slice that I had when i was young, I also f a sudden had this beautiful draw, a shot that went up high and tailed down to the left so gently. A work of art. Unfortunately, it could easily become a hard left turn without notice, so I had to figure out how to control it. I lost the beauty, but I lost the banana hook, too.

After I retired in 2004, I played much more often. I took a few lessons, and experimented endlessly with ways to get better. Along the way I wrote my two golf books and started up this blog.

I joined a men’s club at a local daily fee course so I could get a USGA handicap. I wanted to be come a single-digit player. I heard one guy say once that you can’t be a single-digit player if you only played once a week. Since that is all I could manage, I thought to myself, “Oh, yes you can.”

Playing in the high 80s, I did two things: learned how to hit the ball straight, and got really good at approach putting and chipping. That got me to 9.5, playing only once a week.

I started taking my grandson out to play in 2008 when he was 8, and we went out regularly for the years I was able to play. Hopefully the hook has been set in another generation. My sons? They grew up in the Michael Jordan era and all they saw was basketball. They younger one plays now, but the older one realized his temper doesn’t tolerate bad shots, so he doesn’t.

In 2012, I had two spine surgeries which cut deeply into my playing time. In 2015 I started treatments for cancer, which continue to this day. Both of those reverses took care of my playing golf for seven years. But in 2019 I was healthy enough to begin playing again. I could still hit the shots, but I had forgotten how to play the game and bad choices kept my scores up until I got the game figured out again.

Someone who doesn’t play once asked me what is so fascinating about golf. Rather promptly I said that golf is a puzzle to be figured out. There is a defined problem with every shot and the goal is to find a way to face any challenge the course can give you and have a solution for it. I have fun figuring out those things. Then there’s the part about having fun with friends in beautiful surroundings.

That’s my life in golf so far.

Golfing for Cats

A number of years ago, and enterprising British author published a book titled, Golfing for Cats. I’m not sure what the book is about, but the author was taking advantage of research that showed the most popular books sold in the UK were about golf, cats, and the Third Reich.

Our family took in a cat recently. The renters next door moved out at midnight one weekend, abandoning their two cats. We took in one, and a neighbor across the street took in the other.

We don’t know how old our new cat, Buddy, is, but he can’t be more than two. That puts him at the height of his playfulness and curiosity. I found out by accident that he loves golf clubs.

I was watching TV one night, with a 7-iron in my hand practicing my grip, and put the clubhead on the ground. Buddy came over and stared at it. Just stared. I rolled the club a bit so the clubhead turned and he jumped a mile, but came back to stare at it again.

That was a few weeks ago. Ever since then, whenever I get out a golf club, he is right there, staring at it. Maybe because it’s shiny. I don’t know.

My wife got him a catnip mouse, which he loves. Goes bonkers nuts with it. She said, You can’t complete with that mouse. I said, Oh, yes I can. A few mornings ago he was playing with the mouse and I put a 5-iron on the ground in front of him. Mouse here, golf club there. And the golf club won!

Maybe I can teach him to caddy for me.

Getting Arnold Palmer’s Autograph

I mentioned in an earlier post that I started playing golf when I was 10. That September, my Dad asked me if I wanted to see a golf tournament – see the professionals play. I said, “Sure,” so we went to the 1960 Portland Open Invitational at the Portland (Oregon) Golf Club.

When we got there, we went straight to the range to watch the players warming up. There were caddies downrange, one for each golfer, because they had to provide their own balls back then and the caddies were out there picking them up. I was worried the caddies would get hit, but their player hit shot after shot right to them. Unbelievable.

The third tee was right next to the range, so we started following some group, I forget who was in it, and on the next hole, the second hole of tournament golf that I had ever seen, one of the guys made a hole-in-one. No kidding. What fun!


Arnold Palmer was there. He had won the Masters the year before, but was a year away from becoming ARNOLD PALMER. I knew who he was, though, and on the eighteenth hole I walked into the fairway at Pop’s urging to get his autograph as he walked from the tee to his next shot.

There were no gallery ropes in those days; you just stayed a respectful distance away when the players were hitting and then followed them down the fairway.

He was walking to his tee ball and I went up to him and asked him for his autograph. He asked me kindly to wait until he was finished playing and he would sign for me. So I went up to the green and stood a good distance away to not get lost in the crowd. I waited, and waited.

I heard some commotion from the gallery around the green, so I guess something had happened. Some applause, and everything was quiet again. Not a few moments after that, here comes Arnold Palmer, alone, walking straight for me. He had said he would sign for me, he found me, and he signed.

You can’t imagine how happy I was to get his autograph, and it took me until I had grown up to realize what he had done. He had kept his promise and he had to find me to keep it. Instead of thinking that I had left, he went looking. That’s why he’s The King. You bet I still have that autograph.

Oh, yes. Palmer shot 270 to finish in fourth place, four strokes behind winner Billy Casper, Jr. Palmer won $1,150 and Casper’s first-place check was worth $2,800.

The capital “A” is 1-3/4″ high.

See also My Natalie Gulbis Story

Visit www.therecreationalgolfer.com

Hole-in-one

I was going to blog today about an analysis of tournament strength in this week’s Golf World magazine. I’ll write about that tomorrow. Something else came up.

I got a hole-in-one today. My first in 49 years of playing golf. I’ve sunk irons from the fairway before, but never from the tee.

It was at the Auburn Golf Course in Salem, Oregon, and executive course, on the 6th hole, 58 yards, with a pitching wedge.

Yes, I know. 58 yards. But that doesn’t make it any easier. And there’s still a 1 on the scorecard.

So. Along with my birdie on the Road Hole (I’ll tell you about that sometime), I have a few things to talk about when someone asks me what my best shot ever was.

My Natalie Gulbis Story

One of the favorite questions to ask your golfing buddies is, what is your dream foursome? For me, that’s an easy one — Natalie Gulbis and two guys who can’t make it. I know Natalie has sex appeal, but you might not have heard that she is one of the most genuine persons you will ever meet. I want to tell you this story about her because it is so out of character for the modern-day professional athlete.

My golfing buddy and I were at the LPGA’s Safeway Classic in Portland, Oregon about five years ago or so. We would pick up one group, follow them for a few holes, then wait at the green until another group of interest showed up, follow them for a while, and so on. So the group that Natalie was in showed up and that clearly struck us as a group of interest. We went to the next tee with them after they had all holed out. She hit first and went to the back of the tee box, where we were standing, to get some bottled water out of the cooler that was there for the players.

Now it was kind of hot that day, so my buddy and I had brought water with us. There were two guys standing next to us, I’d guess in their 60s, who didn’t have any. Natalie took out her water, looked at them, and said, “You guys look kind of hot. Want some water?” They said, “Sure,” so she reached in for two more bottles of chilled water and gave one to each of them. They said, “Thank you,” she smiled and said, “No problem,” and went back to the tournament.

If you’ve ever been to a professional golf tournament, you know the players are there to concentrate on their game and not on you, but my word, you can get looked at like you’re not even there. But here is a case of a player who by nature thinks enough of other people to step out of her golfing cocoon, read the situation, and perform an unexpected act of kindness.

I thought you should know.

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at www.therecreationalgolfer.com. It will change everything about the way you play.