All About Aces

Dave AvatarOpposite the Pro Shop at Aliso Viejo Country Club, hanging on the wall in the long, first floor hallway of the clubhouse, hangs a very large, wooden plaque, 72″ wide and 77″ high. On the plaque, 228, 2.75″ x 1.00″ brass plates are positioned  in 12 columns with 19  plates in each column. 46 of the brass plates are engraved with a name and a hole number; the rest are blank, awaiting inscription. In the second column of brass plates, if you count down to the 14th plate from the top, you’ll find a plate that reads: Dave Franzetta, Hole 12. It commemorates the first and only time I achieved the pinnacle of individual golf success, a hole-in-one on June 20, 2011; my one and, so far, only ace.

The 12th at Aliso Viejo is a 143-yard par three. The yardage is a bit misleading, since the tee is elevated about 75 feet above the green, so the shot plays downhill and is actually much more like a 115-yard shot. That day, as I almost always do on hole number 12, I hit a pitching wedge. The ball sailed high, and curved gently to the left as it carried over the large pot bunker that fronts the green, flying straight at the flagstick. It was shortly after one o’clock so the sun was almost directly overhead, and the shadow of the flag hung right over the hole. I knew it was a really good shot, but couldn’t see if the ball had gone into the cup, or was merely hidden from view in the shadows or behind the flagstick. One of my playing partners, my good friend Linda Gruver, also hit a terrific tee shot, with her ball finishing about 15 inches behind the hole. I raced down the hill, set my golf bag on the edge of green and looked in the hole. There, happily resting at the bottom of the cup, was my TaylorMade model Tour XP ball, stamped with the number “0,” with the four red dots I had inked on the ball before starting my round that morning. It had taken me almost 50 years of trying, and I had finally done it. The rest of the round was a bit of a blur. When I arrived at the clubhouse, ready to buy drinks for everyone, my wallet got a great break, since it was a Monday, the bar was closed, and only a few other golfers were there to join my celebration. I’ve kept trying, and though I’ve witnessed several other aces, this is still my one and only ace. [If you ever find me bragging about my ace, you can remind me that it was one of the 15 or so holes-in-one recorded at my club that year, and one of approximately 40,000 reported in the US in 2011.]

I can still remember clearly the very first ace I witnessed. It was at Duquesne CC in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania,  during a high school golf match between my school, Bishop Boyle HS, and Pittsburgh South Catholic HS. My opponent was named Greg Huigens. [Strange that I should remember Greg after so many years, but he was my nemesis, beating me handily at both golf and bowling, my two high school sports.] Greg had built a 3-up lead after nine holes in our match, but I had battled back on the inward nine, and we were all square when we came to the 15th, a tricky, sidehill par-3 hole of about 160 yards. I hit my tee shot into a large bunker to the right of the green. Greg stepped up, took his stance and launched a beautiful 5-iron directly at the hole, the ball landing a few feet behind the hole and spinning back into the cup for an hole-in-one. Totally deflated, I lost two of the next three holes and dropped the match.

ace jumpGolfers have always been fascinated by holes-in-one. Perhaps it’s because even a beginner can make a hole in one, since an ace is always the result of some incomprehensible combination of luck and skill. Young Jake Paine was only three years old when, in 2001, he made a hole-in-one on a 66 -yard 6th hole at the executive length, 9-hole Lake Forest Golf and Practice Course in Lake Forest, California. [Before you start shaking your head and calling it nothing but luck, take note that Jake scored his second ace two days before his thirteenth birthday.] The oldest golfer, man or woman, known to have made a hole in one is Elsie McLean, aged 102. On April 5, 2007, Ms McLean holed out with a  driver on the 100-yard 4th hole at Bidwell Park, in Chico, California. Because the green sloped away from the tee, she couldn’t see the ball drop, and  learned she’d aced the hole when her playing partners found the ball in the cup. She later said, “For an old lady, I still hit the ball pretty good.” It was the first hole-in-one of her life, providing a ray of hope for those golfers who have passed the age of sixty and not yet made an ace.

Some golfers seem to have an amazing proclivity for putting the ball in the hole on their tee shot. Norman Manley, an amateur from Long Beach, California is credited with 59 aces, including extraordinarily rare successive holes-in-one on par 4s, a feat he achieved in September 1964 at Del Valle Country Club, Saugus, California on the 330-yard 7th and the 290-yard 8th, both being dog-legs and downhill. They were part of a course record 61 (10 under par) he shot that day. Art Wall, Jr. holds the record for holes-in-one by a PGA Tour professional, with 45 or 46. [Apparently Art was so prolific making aces that his record keeping got a bit lax.] To put these feats into perspective, Tiger Woods has 19 aces and Jack Nicklaus has 15 holes-in-one.

Given the relative rarity of holes-in-one, I was curious about the actual odds of making an ace. In 1999, Golf Digest magazine commisssioned a study by Francis Scheid, Ph.D., retired Chairman of Mathematics at Boston University, using all the available statisitics for holes-in-one, both amateur and professional. In 2005, Dr. Schied updated the study and came up with the following estimates:

  • Professional Tour player making an ace: 3,000 to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 900
  • Low-handicapper making an ace: 5,000 to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 1,250
  • Average player making an ace: 12,000 to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 3,000
  • Average player acing a 150-yard hole: 80,000 to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 23,000
  • Average player acing a 200-yard hole: 150,000 to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 40,000
  • Two players in the same foursome acing the same hole: 17 million to 1. Rounds needed to do it: 17 million
  • One player making two holes-in-one in the same round: 67 million to 1.

ImageBased on the data, the best formula for getting an ace seems to be to play a lot of golf on courses with par-3 holes less than 150-yards in length. Playing golf twice a week on a course with three or four short par-3 holes, you shouldn’t need more than about 30 years to record an ace, or at least even the odds of doing so. When you do make your ace, remember to have someone take a picture of you pulling the ball out of the cup. It will make you happy every time you look at it. And don’t forget to register your ace with the USGA’s official Golf Register. That way you can prove to your grandchildren that you really did make a hole-in-one!

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  1. Dave, very timely since I recorded my first Ace on 3/2 during our member/guest. It was a 147 yard 8 iron on hole 11.

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