From the Golf Journal Archives - One-Track Mind

Nov 04, 2011

By Rich Skyzinski

(Note: This article originally appeared in the November/December 1997 issue of Golf Journal.)

ALL MY LIFE I’VE WANTED to walk into a saloon and shatter the sleepy silence by pounding my fist on the bar and bellowing, “Barkeep! Start pourin’! Drinks are on me!” And as he reached for an aged spirit and began lining up the glasses on the bar, he would turn to me and say, “And to what, my dear sir, do we owe this good fortune?” Then I would proceed to explain in great detail how I made time stand still. How my actions had the nation’s workforce huddled in breathless anticipation around the office television. How, when people heard the news, they ran from their office buildings to dance in the streets with unabashed glee. Then I would proceed to enlighten him with every blessed facet of the greatest golf shot ever struck; my hole-in-one.

Any editor of any golf publication will tell you that the most frequently discussed subject in their heaps of unsolicited correspondence is the hole-in-one. Thus, some of these editors – or so I hear – have refined the art of being able to read the first three sentences of any letter before ascertaining that the paper is worthy of being transformed into a projectile headed for the basketball hoop trash can in the corner.

Frankly, I don’t know why I haven’t experienced the glory of making a hole-in-one. No, scratch that; I do know. It’s because my golf game is as unpredictable as Dennis Rodman’s hair color. One day it’s shocking pink. The next day it’s platinum blond. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, it’s something even more confounding.

For years I’ve had a space on my office wall reserved for the monument I’ll have commissioned to commemorate my hole-in-one. Ball, scorecard, plaque – the works. But that spot on the wall, along with the area underneath the seat in front of you on any airplane, is the greatest waste of space in America.

Not only have I never made a hole-in-one, but I’ve never even witnessed one. The closest I ever came was 10 or 12 years ago during a summer grudge match against my friend Tony. He’d taken to making some of his own clubs, and one day at the long downhill 17th at Green Pond Golf Course in Bethlehem, Pa., he hit what I call his Pi club – it was something like a 3.14159-wood – to about two inches. Drained the putt, too. What? You thought I was going to give it to him?

Earlier this summer I read about Matthew Draper, a 5-year-old from London who became perhaps the youngest golfer ever to make an ace when he holed a 3-wood on a 120-yard hole at a course in central England. Frankly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about: I’ve hit my 3-wood 120 yards dozens of times. Matthew’s father told a reporter that his son “always dreamed of a hole-in-one. Every time he plays, he asks me if I think he’ll get it this time.”

Can this be true? When I was 5, my biggest worry was whether my mom was going to make me chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies to go with my Bosco. It would be my guess that the next time we hear from Matthew, he’ll have elected to bypass elementary school and go right to the PGA Tour.

THERE IS ONLY ONE logical venue for my pilgrimage to golf heaven: Colina Park. The 2,312-yard, par-54 course in San Diego is best known as the home of ProKids, a three-year-old program that teaches the game and makes it available to hundreds of kids who otherwise would never have been exposed to golf. But Colina Park has something else going for it; if there’s a facility anywhere in the U.S. that is the home of more holes-in-one annually, well, Colina Park will make the claim until it’s debunked by another.

I know what you’re saying. A par-3 course? That’s cheating. Why don’t you pick on one your own size? Hey, if you were dying of thirst and someone offered a drink of water, would you turn it down because it wasn’t Perrier? My hole-in-one doesn’t have to come 230 yards over a churning sea, past the 20-foot-deep bunkers to a hole cut 18 inches from a patch of spinach. I’m not proud: The way I figure it, an ace with an asterisk is better than no ace at all.

Four of the 20-odd active members of the Colina Park men’s club have more than 100 career aces each. The club once maintained a bulletin board of Colina Super Stars, and to be listed a player had to have collected at least 20 aces. Chuck Hoerr and Ed Kitching both have well over 100, and the white-bearded LaRue Pfeiffer owns 182. They still have a long way to go, however, to catch 82-year-old Jimmy Pollock, the kingpin of Colina Park aces.

Pollock has been playing Colina Park since it opened in 1951. Minus the few years the course fell into a dismal state of neglect and was inhabited primarily by the neighborhood’s ne’er-do-wells, he’s scored 322 holes-in-one, almost all of them on the 22-acre site that sits in the midst of one of San Diego’s great melting pots, just down the street from San Diego State University.

He’s aced every hole at Colina Park more than once, as has Pfeiffer, who, after all these years, feels that special excitement every time he adds to his total. “Of course I still get a charge out of it,” he says. “You figure that hole is what, four and a quarter inches wide, and to put a ball in that space, the odds are still minuscule. I probably get a bigger kick out of it now than I did when I had one or two.”

Because the majority of play at Colina Park comes from kids, the thrill of holing a tee shot isn’t confined to the veterans. On Aug. 30, 8-year-old Maranie Jaslowski, all 4-foot-3 and 53 pounds of her, aced the 61-yard 10th hole to win a playoff in an age division tournament held the last Saturday of every month. It was her second career ace; according to the National Hole-in-One Association, her first, which came at age 5, made her the youngest girl ever to make a 1.

I came to Colina Park to absorb the wisdom of the ace gurus, to pose thoughtful questions like, "Do you prefer to hit a full wedge or lay off a 9-iron?" Instead I find myself walking to the 11th green with Maranie and asking, “So what kind of lunch box do you have?”

OVER THE COURSE of a week, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 holes-in-one made in this country – and I’m gonna get me one. Maybe today, the first day of my quest. For three days, I am committed to touring Colina Park until I either make a 1 or dull the edges off my clubs trying. My arsenal contains four clubs – sand wedge, pitching wedge, 9-iron and putter – and a dozen balls, all No. 1s. They will all get their chance to be the ball.

But first I need to get my bag – the bag that also holds the keys to my rental car – out of the trunk, which is locked. The proper thing to do is call the rental car company and wait until it sends someone with a duplicate key. But I surmise I could also walk down just about any street in the neighborhood and find a person uniquely qualified in – how should I say it? – keyless vehicular operations. I’m guessing the rental car company will notice if I return the vehicle with some of the driver’s side window missing, so I patiently choose Option A.

On my first tour of Colina Park, walking the back nine with Pfeiffer and Larry Black, his longtime playing companion, I am comforted by the apparent ease with which Pfeiffer knocks his sand wedge stiff against the flagstick. Over nine holes he makes four 2s, none from outside two feet.

Pfeiffer, however, is quick to sing the praises of his homemade tee, which upon initial inspection looks like something a witch doctor or gypsy fortuneteller would shake in hopes of extracting some sort of mystical powers. Colina Park’s teeing grounds consist of an octagonal artificial-turf mat placed upon a four-inch slab of concrete, and the rubber tees protruding from either side are an inch high, which is probably fine for beginning players but not recommended for sand and pitching wedges. Pfeiffer concocted his tee by taking a rubber toilet washer, about a quarter-inch thick, and attaching a string and an orange marker that enables him to find it when it lands in the grass. In Pfeiffer’s case – and other members of the men’s club have fashioned similar contraptions – it serves the purpose.

When I begin my odyssey, however, I realize Colina Park is going to fight longer and harder than Andrew Golota. Though eight of the nine holes on Colina Park’s hilly front nine are less than 100 yards, I open in fine, customary form by missing all nine greens. I am quick to note that there is an art to hitting off the plastic mats. Pfeiffer has graciously offered me the use of his toilet-washer tee, but I can’t get used to looking down at the ball and seeing all those protuberances.

Over lunch at D.Z. Akin’s, where the sandwiches are high enough to block the view of your dining companion and the cream puffs are as big as footballs, Dedric Holmes, executive director of the ProKids program, shares with me the secret of Colina Park: Aim for the flagstick. Do you think this is what Queen Isabella said to Columbus? Aim for the beach on the other side of the water. It sounds too simplistic, but the more I play Colina Park the more I understand his point.

A number of Colina Park’s greens have a great deal of pitch to them, and after enough experience it’s obvious from first sight whether a tee shot has a chance to find the bottom of the hole. Shots two feet to the right of the flag at the second are going to go farther right. No shot at the fifth will ever go right; the 13th slopes hard the other way. Before long, you realize a shot 12 inches from the hole –12 inches on the wrong side of the hole – has no chance.

But the sand wedge at the 16th that afternoon, besides stopping head professional Chip Boldin from winning 16 straight skins, was right on target. It’s funny the way time is suspended for those few seconds when a ball has a legitimate chance for a hole-in-one. This wedge hit four feet short, bounced once, then rolled closer (heart starts to beat a little faster) ... and closer (and faster) ... and closer! (thumpedy-thump-thump) ... only to stop four inches short. 0-for-34.

As the sun crawls across the sky, I recall an interview with Seve Ballesteros. When asked how he four-putted a green, he responded, “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.” Instead, I end Day 1 with an I miss-I miss-I miss-I miss streak that reaches 0-for-63. Tonight, I will not be pounding my fist on any bar. Tell me, Mr. Bartender, what do you recommend for a sad sack of sorrow like myself?

DAY 2 DAWNS, my feet tender from the pounding and my ego bruised and battered, and I have arrived at Colina Park eager to embark with a newly formed strategy.

Maybe, I reason, I should not continue this journey without the support of my fellow competitors. If I offer my fellow players a reward, a reason to root for my ace, their emotional backing might just prove to be the difference. “This,” I said on the seventh tee to the rather sizable lad who joined me for nine holes, “is for all the cream puffs at D.Z. Akin’s.” I could sense his mouth watering as I took my stance, but alas, when my shot landed on the right fringe, a scowl came across his face as though he’d just been sentenced to a month of nothing but cantaloupe.

I hear the ding-a-ling of the ice cream truck as it maneuvers through the neighborhood, so I entice the three boys standing behind me at the 17th. “This is for all the ice cream you can eat.”

"Yeah!" they sang in unison as visions of hot fudge brought wide eyes and smiles to their little faces. But there would be no cherry to top off this shot; my wedge came up weak right (0-for-134), nearly bringing tears to their eyes as the ice cream truck turned the corner and slowly jingled and jangled its way down 52nd Street.

Or maybe my powers of concentration have found another receiver. As four of us approach the seventh green (0-for-142), there is screaming from the nearby second tee, “Hole-in-one! Hole-in-one!”

Alex Rogers, a 26-year-old marketer of medical products, has, on the fly, knocked a sand wedge into the hole of a green located not more than 50 yards from where we stand. It’s his fifth career ace. In the day and a half I’ve been at Colina Park, there have been five aces. But my quest still yields nothing.

Superintendent Chris Bailey stops by to check on my progress, and when I give him the bad news, he promises that if my 0-fer streak is still intact Sunday afternoon, he’ll dig me a trench along one of his greens to help my ball find its target. I hope that’s not needed.

My closest shot today was to three feet or so, a rather sorry performance over 90 holes. It's a good thing I’m not in charge of the space program; our explorers might be aimed at Mars, but chances are we'd be landing in Oxnard.

AS DAY 3 APPEARS, I arrive at the course ready to debunk the myth of Colina Park regulars who believe the opening hole is not the logical place for a 1.

The hole measures 76 yards, all uphill. The green resembles a half pipe that faces the tee, and most players believe the difficulty in acing this hole stems from the challenge of landing the ball in just the right 10-foot area above the hole, from where the ball trickles back and, if it doesn’t go in, usually doesn’t stop until it’s 10 feet below the hole. I have several near-misses today – 12 inches at the second, ninth and 10th, 15 inches at the 18th – but still nothing in the bottom of the cup. Time is running short as the 0-fer streak surpasses 200 holes, then 250.

I’m not sure I’ve hit the first green but once or twice, and I know I haven’t put my tee shot above the hole and given it a chance to trickle down to the cup, so on my last round I’m determined to give it every chance. The shot looks to be dead-solid perfect: right on the flagstick, above the hole. If it’s not in, I reason, it’s certainly close. Might even be able to blow it in.

You can’t see the hole from the tee, so as I begin to walk up the hill, my neck craning with every step, my heart races in anticipation. And as I reach the green I see the impossible: the ball landed, and stopped, six feet above the hole. Maybe the only ball in the history of Colina Park ever to stop here.

My chances are going... going...

The crowning, embarrassing blow came as the shadows began to lengthen across Colina Park. Dedric and I took on the brothers Pettit, 10-year-old Ross (one career ace) and 12-year-old Drew (five), and 8-year-old Stephan Stallworth (two). We started on 10, and why we pressed after losing the first nine, 5 down, I don’t know. Little Ross doesn’t realize it now, but the putt he made from the three-inch rough above the first hole may well be the most improbable birdie of his golfing life. That put the kids ahead, 6 up, and they completed the shutout after just a dozen holes.

“Two Gatorades!” they yelled as they ran down the hill toward the clubhouse. “We beat ‘em for two Gatorades!”

It is now time to open my wallet and buy the drinks. But this is not what I had in mind.

The author discovered that the opportunity to realize one of golf’s greatest glories, the hole-in-one, is easier said than done. (USGA Museum)

(USGA Museum)

(USGA Museum)