Fact Check

Golf Ball Hit on Runway

Did a wily golf pro win an impromptu driving contest by hitting his ball on an airport runway?

Published Feb 20, 2005

Legend:   Wily old golf pro wins impromptu driving contest by hitting his ball on an airport runway.

Example:   [Collected in person, 1983]

When I was the golf pro at [deleted], me and the pros from three other clubs were at the clubhouse bar one evening shooting the breeze, and at one point one of them suggested we should have ourselves a little contest to see who was the best golfer, or at least who could drive a ball the farthest.

Now these three beefy younger guys who had arms as thick as tree trunks all thought I'd take a pass on this one, seeing as how I was at least 20 years older than any of them and as scrawny as an old rooster, but I said, "Sure, sure; include me in." They looked me up and down like I'd lost my mind, but then exchanged that "We'll just humor him" look among themselves as we all headed out to the course.

We walked over to the first hole, where one after the other the guys teed up and drove their balls for all they were worth. Then they looked at me and said, "What are you waiting for?" I said, "Well, I'm not doing it here. You didn't say anything about where we'd hold this contest, so I'm going to pick my spot. You lads come with me."

I put them in my car and drove to Uplands Airport. There at the far end of one of the runways that wasn't being used, I teed up and whomped that ball. It flew straight down that runway, and when it came down it just bounced and kept going, and might even still be going to this day. Those three lads looked at one another, then at me, and said, "You win."

Young people think they know everything.

Origins:   In 1983, in Ottawa, Canada, an older gentleman who had been a golf pro told me the story recounted above.


I had always wondered about his anecdote because something about it didn't ring right to me, but prior to my having had the chance to discuss the tale with someone knowledgeable about the stories golfers tell amongst themselves, I'd had no valid reason to dismiss it.

In January 2005, while conversing with Ried Holien, a freelance writer in South Dakota whose articles appear in Golf News magazine, I brought up this yarn to ask if it was one he'd encountered. He laughed and said yes, it was; that over the years he'd heard it a number of different ways. The sly golfer sometimes chooses a landing strip, but in other recountings he heads for a frozen lake. If in the vicinity of where the tale is being told there's a road that has just been blacktopped, the wily pro's drive might be said to have been performed there.

Although the number of golfers involved and their skill levels change from version to version (sometimes the impromptu competition is said to have been held among a group of Sunday duffers rather than between professionals), one facet of the story never changes: the clever golfer who permits the others to go first then himself tees up on a long smooth surface is always markedly older than the men he bests. It is that unvarying characteristic that defines the nature of the legend and hence its appeal: age and experience will always overcome youth and skill, says the tale.


see a different aspect of that precept showcased in another urban legend, one we've dubbed "Rage Before Beauty." In it, an older woman teaches a younger gal that speed and sass are no match for the better financial position that generally comes with age. Once again, the brashness of youth learns a hard lesson about the resources of its elders.)

It is no lie that the process of aging reduces many previously taken-for-granted physical skills and abilities. Eyesight degrades. Hearing becomes less acute. Reaction time slows, Mysterious aches and pains appear where previously all had been solidly healthy and worry-free. Yet just as aging brings physical disadvantages, it provides compensation in the form of wisdom and life experience, as the legend about the wily older golf pro reminds us. There is gold to be found among the silver.

As for airport runways, so many driving competitions have been held on such surfaces over the years that it's hard to imagine any golfer now falling for the ingenious trick central to the legend. At the Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland in 1993, Quail Hollow pro Tony Milam won the McDonald & Co. Long Drive Championship by sending his ball 625 yards, with second- and third-place finishers launching theirs 550 yards and 540 yards respectively.

In 2004, Australian Stuart Appleby drove a ball 689.6 yards down a runway of the Sydney airport against fellow golfers Michael Campbell, John Senden, and Peter O'Malley. He donated the $3,906 US prize money to charity.

Yet the world record is held by Jack Hamm, who in 1996 launched a ball 1,012 yards on the east runway at the Stapleton International Airport in Denver. The previous record of 634.1 yards had been set in 1984 by Ireland's Liam Higgins.

Jack Hamm also holds the Guinness World Record for the longest carry of a golf ball, 458 yards at Highlands Ranch, Colorado, on 20 July 1993.

Barbara "ace of clubs" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In the 1996 film Tin Cup, professional golfer David Simms (played by Don Johnson) beats driving range employee Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) in a "one shot with a 7 iron" competition. Simms follows McAvoy's performance on the range by belting his ball from the same spot, but only after first pivoting 45° to send it bouncing down a paved road.

Last updated:   11 May 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Galbincea, Pat.   "Runners, Golfers Test Their Speed at the Runway."

    [Cleveland] Plain Dealer.   10 July 1993   (p. E2).

    Phipers, Todd.   "Hamming It Up."

    The Denver Post.   16 May 1996   (p. D9).

    [Denver] Rocky Mountain News.   "NFL Honors Broncos' Aide."

    15 May 1996   (Sports; p. C20).

    Hamilton Spectator.   "People."

    16 May 1996   (p. D11).

    Hamilton Spectator.   "Takeoff Tee: Driving for Charity."

    23 November 2004   (Sports; p. 16).

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