Flight of the Condor

18 July 2023

The following may sound unbelievable, but there were independent witnesses of all these events. In one case, they even saw what happened on the green!

A 'condor' in golf is a score of four (4!) under par. This can be achieved by scoring a hole-in-one on a par-5 hole, or by taking two strokes on a par-6 hole, which are themselves as rare as hen's teeth. 

Golfing condors have been recorded six times around the world over the last 60 years in the USA, the UK and Australia. Until 2020, they were all par-5 'aces'. 

Larry Bruce 1962 Hole-in-one Par-5 on 5th Hope Country Club

Bill Fields, writing in Golf World in 2004, credits Larry Bruce with the first known 'condor' in golf. In 1962, Bruce cut the dogleg on the 5th hole at the Hope Country Club in Arkansas. The hole is recorded as 480-yards, but obviously as a dogleg the drive would have had less distance to travel to the hole. Today, the scorecard shows 452 yards and the carry to the approach to the green looks to be about 250 yards.

Dick Hogan 1973 Hole-in-one Par-5 on 8th Piedmont Crescent

In 1973, scratch golfer Dick Hogan aced the 8th at Piedmont Crescent in North Carolina. At the time, it was a 456-yard par-5. As it was the 4th July and there were maintenance workers nearby, Hogan was never sure whether someone played a joke on him. His expressed doubts may have played a part in the fact that this score is missing from some lists of golfing condors. However, the ground was hard and the ball had certainly run to the green, as he said in 2013: -

“We were in a dry spell and the fairway was red clay. The ball just never stopped rolling.”

Shaun Lynch 1995 Hole-in-one Par-5 on 17th Teign Valley 

In 1995, Shaun Lynch hit a 3-iron off the tee on the 496-yard 17th at Teign Valley in Christow (UK). The next time he saw the ball, it was in the cup. He had cut the corner and, as he said, the ball “must have bounced on the hard ground and run and run.”  

Lynch was not sure what had happened and had played a provisional. The Club installed a plaque of the event and it is worth reading the recent comments of a member of club: -

Teign Plaque Condor 1995

Teign Valley plaque courtesy of Teign Hotel

"[I] was a member at Teign Valley recently for about 4 years, to everyone wondering how it’s possible, it’s a 90 degree left dogleg, which is steeply downhill from the point at which it doglegs. You can cut the corner (carry around 220-30 from the front tee, around 250-70 from the back tee). In the summer the ball will roll all the way down the hill to the green. To those questioning the distance, you don’t need to hit it anywhere near the yardage on the card to make the green. When the record happened the trees on the corner were less mature and it was easier. With them being taller now it’s harder to do."

Mike Crean 2002 Hole-in-one Par-5 on 9th Green Valley Ranch 

Denver hole 9 Condor

The US Golf Register recorded this feat as the longest hole-in-one in golf history. On 4th July 2002, Mike Crean, a professor at the local university, drove the 9th green from the tee on Green Valley Ranch golf course in Denver.

The distance on the scorecard was 517 yards. The green was visible from the tee, but none of the group of four had seen the ball go in, so Crean had played a provisional, until they discovered the ball in the cup. As there was line of sight from tee to green, it is unlikely that anyone had interfered with the ball, although it was the 4th July (see Dick Hogan above.) 

Denver's high altitude means the air is thinner and there was 30 mph following wind. (Later in the same summer, a record 510 yard drive was set in the World Long Drive Championship in Bennett, less than 20 miles away.)

Jack Bartlett 2007 Hole-in-one Par-5 on17th Wentworth Falls CC

Jack Bartlett was only 16 when he aced the 17th hole at the Wentworth Falls Country Club in New South Wales in 2007.  It was a par-5 hole and he is therefore the youngest recorded person to score a condor in golf. On the scorecard it was 467 meters (511 yards), but it was a dogleg left and therefore the direct distance would have been less. (Some sources have given the Club a Royal title, for no discernible reason.)

Kevin Pon 2020 Two strokes on Par-6 on 18th Lake Chabot 

This is the only condor which had independent witnesses to what happened on the green, both by the group in front and a course marshal.

Lake Chabot Golf Course has a rare par-6 as its 18th hole, measuring 649 yards from the white tees. At the end of the drive, there is a steep downhill with the cart path crossing the fairway several times before a very steep uphill shot to the small and sloping green. It is reachable in three good shots, but the ball will run back down on the green from almost anywhere, so a par is not guaranteed.

Lake Chalot hole 18 Condor B

Lake Chabot hole 18 par-6

On 10th December 2020, Kevin Pon drove his ball out-of-sight from the tee and thought he had lost it, until his playing partner spotted is at the bottom of the hill.  The drive had travelled over 500 yards and may well have had the benefit of a lucky bounce on the cart track. It left him with a 110-yard blind approach, for which he used his pitching wedge.

"Look in the hole!"

Pon takes up the story, “The ball is going toward the flag, and then all of a sudden the group in front of us is clapping and screaming. Then the ladies and the marshal behind us are clapping and bowing."  He and his partner still didn't know what had happened. When they drove up to the green, the group in front said, "Look in the hole!". Those players later said that the ball bounced twice right into the hole. 

Kevin Pon hadn't made a hole-in-one, but he now has an unique score which no golfer has ever recorded before or since.

Trying to assess the probability of these events is difficult, because very few courses have suitable par-5 holes or any par-6 holes at all. The probability of a hole-in-one on the PGA tour has been assessed as 1 in 12,500 (mostly par-3s). For good/scratch golfers it would be slightly higher. The probability of getting a hole-in-one on a par-5 is therefore really the probability of having an extremely long drive times the probability of a hole-in-one (on a par-4) for a good/scratch golfer on a course with suitable holes. So, for most golfers, a 'condor' is only ever going to be of academic interest! 

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