The Associated Press reports:
RANCHO BERNARDO, Calif. — Two golfers at a San Diego area country club drew a most unlikely pair of aces.
Charles T. White nailed a hole-in-one on the 9th hole Sunday at Bernardo Heights Country Club. Next up in the foursome was Kitty Tinker, who matched it.
The players’ reaction? White says “Disbelief is a good word.”
A spokesman for the club confirmed the consecutive aces Monday.
A 2000 Golf Digest study calculated the odds of two golfers in the same foursome acing the same hole at 17 million to one.
The club gives players a round of free drinks for each time a hole-in-one is hit. This time, there were two rounds.
Congratulations, Charles and Kitty! One in 17 million, eh? Pretty amazing! The local papers quite justifiably made a fuss, and the golfers involved deserve every congratulation they got.
Yet it’s not clear why this story was picked up by the AP and reprinted in newspapers and on websites all around the country — often with breathless descriptions like “a feat rated by Golf Digest as nearly impossible” — because simple arithmetic shows that on a national level, it really isn’t all that unusual.
As the referenced Golf Digest article explains, the figure of 1 in 17 million applies only to par-threes; on other holes, the probability is effectively zero. Now, about 500 million rounds of golf are played in the United States per year, which works out to 125 million foursomes. At four par-threes per round, that means 500 million par-three holes are played by a foursome every year (again, all these figures are approximations).
Divide that by 17 million, and you would expect around 30 cases per year in which two members of a foursome ace the same hole. Half of those cases would be back-to-back, which means that an event like the one above happens somewhere in America about once a month. So however memorable it was for the participants, this should not be a national story. Anyone who has a basic command of high-school arithmetic and a clue about golf ought to have noticed that.
Conclusion: Most reporters are not comfortable with statistics and will repeat any impressive-sounding number they are given with no idea of what it means. And you wonder how health-care reform got passed . . .
P.S. For the record, here are a few news accounts of back-to-back holes-in-one from recent years:
Antelope, California, 2005 (back-to-back-to-back; shortish hole; media skeptical, but they passed polygraph tests); Chenango Forks, New York, 2005; Frisco, Texas, 2006 (scroll down); Savannah, Georgia, 2006 (two Marines); Callawassie Island, Georgia, 2006; San Jose, California, 2007 (90 yards); Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, 2007; Jamesburg, New Jersey, 2007; Jacksonville, Florida, 2008 (pre-teen boys at Sawgrass); Maryville, Tennessee, 2008 (scroll down to #23; man says he and his cousin did it; no details); Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 2009 (slightly bogus); Scottsdale, Arizona, 2009; Edmonton, Alberta, 2009.
And for what it’s worth, here’s a golfer who says Golf Digest told him the same thing (scroll down to item No. 20):
I don’t know how many rounds are played in a year, but I do know that there are 12 to 18 “back to back” holes in one witnessed and reported every year . . . I know that little factoid because I was involved in one . . . second one in on top of my playing partner’s ball. We wrote to Golf Digest about it and that was their response.