Cheer the 19th hole - avoid the 20th hole!

July 7, 2016

This is a story of golfers drowning their sorrows or celebrating their victory at the 19th hole, and the story of the 20th hole, which has a sad ending for some unlucky golfers or spectators whose time on earth was finished due to natural or unnatural causes.

Some historians give credit for the 19th hole to the Scots and their love of their world-famous whiskey. It’s not hard to imagine a foursome in the 1500s, each wearing a kilt (with no undies), playing on a cold, windy day and looking forward to a “wee bit of Scootch” at the end of the round. (Just for the record, the Scots started out playing only 12 holes in a round of golf, so technically they invented the 13th hole, but who’s counting.)

The first recorded use of the words 19th hole in the United States was in 1892, at the St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York. But there was only one problem: The club didn’t have a bar or a roof. That didn’t stop thirteen golfers, known as The Apple Tree Gang, from hanging their coats and lunch baskets (and Scootch refreshments) on the limbs of a large apple tree near the 18th green.  The group also built a large wooden bench around the circumference of the tree for added comfort. Not to be outdone, later that year the Shinnecock Hills Golf in Southampton, NY, built the first clubhouse in America and the 19th hole moved indoors.

It is unusual for a story to have both the 19th and 20th holes in the same venue, but the Upminster Golf Club in Essex, England has both. Their clubhouse and bar was once a monastery, built in the 1100s and later became a manor house in 1653. The story goes that the wealthy landowner fell in love with a beautiful woman who did not return his affection. So he imprisoned her in a hidden room inside the house, where she died.

Not wanting to face the gallows, he entombed her body inside a manor wall, which today is an inside wall in the bar area. Golfers over the years, sitting at the bar, have claimed to see her ghost, dressed in a long white gown, slowly walking around the house. The local members have named her Mary, as in “Bloody Mary,” which I think adds some serious doubt to the credence of this legend.

In 1977, Bing Crosby was advised to only play nine holes per round due to declining health, but the 74-year-old singer and scratch golfer was having a great round at the La Moraleja Golf Club near Madrid, Spain, when fate stepped in. On the fifteenth hole, he complained of pain in his left arm, but finished the round with an 85 and top honors for the foursome. On the way to the bar, he said, “that was a great game, fellas,” then collapsed and died of a heart attack.

Even spectators are in jeopardy of the 20th hole on a golf course, as happened at the 1991 U.S. Open in Minneapolis when 12 fans huddled under a tree during a lightning storm.  The tree was hit by lightning and 11 people were seriously injured and one person was killed.

In 1975, at the Chicago Western Open, Lee Trevino, Jerry Heard and Bobby Nicholas were all hit by the same bolt of lightning during a storm delay, and luckily, all survived with minor injuries. They avoided the 20th hole, by luck or the Grace of God.

Don’t let this happen to you!

In 1992, during a local club tournament, a golfer in Winter Haven, Florida had a heart attack on the sixteenth green and died. Not wanting to disrupt play, officials covered his body with a sheet and waited for help to arrive. The rest of the field of golfers was instructed to go straight from the 15th green to the 17th tee box and continue play. “One of his friends was quoted as saying, “life goes on, and we had to keep playing.”

19th Hole trivia
For those “die hard” golf fans, you could pay big money to have your ashes scattered on a golf course, but according to Creative Cremains, the true fan can also have his ashes placed inside the shaft of a driver, so loved ones can take you golfing after you are gone.

Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter