What is the highest score on a hole in a Major?

It was racked up in the 1938 US Open by a Californian club pro

highest score on a hole
A general view of the 10th at Cherry Hills Country Club during the 60th US Women's Open Championship. Credit: Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It was racked up in the course of a tortuous half hour in the 1938 US Open by a Californian club pro who did not understand the rules

The highest score on a hole in a Major is the 19 shot by Ray Ainsley, a Californian club pro. It was in the 1938 US Open at the 397-yard, par-4 16th at Cherry Hills Country Club. Or maybe that should be the “at least 19 strokes played” by Ainsley.

Some will say the score was more - and in some histories of the game it is referred to as being a 21 or a 23. No-one was quite sure at the time, as all involved lost count. But 19 was the ‘official’ score that was marked down at the end for the hole.

The trouble began when Ainsley landed his approach shot into a creek which ran alongside the right of the hole.

For some reason, Ainsley believed he had to play the ball ‘as it lies’ at all times. In fact, as most club golfers could have told him, he could have taken a drop under penalty.

He just lost his head and waded in to play the ball.

A further complication was that the ball was not static as it was being carried away from the hole by the current.

Ainsley thrashed about in the water, disturbing sand, weeds and goodness knows what. Sometimes he also disturbed the ball.

He was playing with Bud McKinney, who later recounted that the ball “would occasionally jump like a fish and land on the bank, only to roll back in. That ball would jump up on the bank and you’d hear the crowd scream: ‘There it is! There it is!’ And then it would roll back in the water.”

The whole experience was said to have taken half an hour, and by the time the ball was hit out of the water for good, it was reported to be from 75 yards further from the hole, due to the current in the creek.

To be fair to Ainsley, when he did finally extract the ball for good, it was a mighty blow.

Unfortunately it was one which took the ball over the green and behind a tree.

The official scorer who was accompanying the pair is said to have lost count, and to have asked McKinney for help calculating the number of shots. Even though Ainsley eventually signed his scorecard for a 19, some onlookers said his score was actually higher. Indeed sometimes it is given as 21, sometimes as 23 in histories of the game.

Either way it is still the highest score on a hole in a Major that has been recorded.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Roderick is the author of the critically acclaimed comic golf novel, Summer At Tangents. Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is also the author of five non-fiction books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.