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What Is An Ace In Golf?
In many ways, there’s not a lot to this question. An ace is simply knocking your tee-shot into the hole. Just as an ace is the top dog in a pack of playing cards, so too is the ace in any list of golfing achievements. It’s more commonly known, in the UK at least, as a hole in one, but either way you get the enormous pleasure of writing the figure ‘1’ on your scorecard!
Most typically they will come on par 3s where you are usually able to reach the green in one blow. That would also be an eagle (two-under par for the hole), but occasionally aces are made on par 4s that players can reach, where they become an albatross – three-under par for a hole. Very, very, very occasionally they come on par 5s where topography, hole shape (e.g., a dogleg) and conditions sometimes make the seemingly impossible, possible. For some, this rarest of birds would be a condor, while others prefer double albatross or even triple eagle.
Some good players go their entire golfing lives without achieving an ace; other less skilled players reel off long lists when you ask them how many they’ve had! Tiger Woods has made 20 in total, although relatively few have come in tour events. That said, he did make one on his professional debut in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, and another the following year on the infamous 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale in the Phoenix Open. Another player who makes aces for fun is Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez. He has made a record ten on the European Tour, and in February 2022 even bagged two in one tournament en route to winning the Cologuard Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.
Obviously there is a strong element of skill involved in hitting your ball towards a tiny 4.25in target with such precision that it actually goes in. But there is also an element of luck. Just ask South Africa’s James Kingston. In the 2002 Dunhill Championship he pulled his tee shot horribly on the par-3 15th on Saturday, but his ball hit a tree, deflected on to the green and rolled in like a putt. He won an Audi TT Coupe too!
That’s another thing – in tour events there will often be a prize if a player makes an ace on a particular hole, sometimes in a particular round, and it will often, though not always, be a very nice car. But they’re not the only ones to benefit significantly from an ace. While the odds of making one are believed to be about 12,500-1, that comes down significantly for a professional, and for at least one pro to make an ace during the course of a four-round tournament, the odds are actually pretty close to even money.
Back in 1991, not all small bookmakers realised this, and two clever punters, Paul Simons and John Carter, did! Known as the hole-in-one gang, they travelled the length and breadth of the land placing bets on aces being made in five particular tournaments, getting odds of between 3-1 and even 100-1 in one case – vastly more than the actual likelihood. All bets came in and they walked away with a six-figure sum even though a small number of bookmakers refused to pay out.
Should you make an ace yourself, however, it will be more about the glory and personal satisfaction, for it has long been a tradition of ‘drinks all round’ in the clubhouse at the ace-maker’s expense. However, you can take out insurance to cover this, and a bottle of whisky on the bar has become an acceptable alternative in some clubs to prevent someone's moment of glory being slightly tarnished by an eye-watering bar bill!
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
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