A couple blocks from Henrick Stapleton’s childhood home, an easy-to-miss trap on the one-hole golf course of Old Shepherd Country Club serves as a reminder of a memorable moment in his life.
It was in the middle of the 16th hole at Old Shepherd, on the opposite side of the creek that flows from the property down to the John A. Logan Reservoir, that Stapleton holed his shot and made one of the biggest hole-in-ones of his life.
It was Jan. 2, 1900.
His driver, off the green, hit a mound and rolled down the hill to a foot-high mound of rough. The ball bounced at odd angles and reversed direction before landing in the fringe at the bottom of the hill. The player with the first putt found himself with a three-shot hole-in-one, but it took a moment for Stapleton to fully realize what had happened.
“I said to myself, ‘I’ve hit a hole-in-one. I thought I knocked it a little right, but it kind of rolled up against the mound,’ ” Stapleton recalled. “The crowd came up — and then everyone began to talk — and I asked, ‘What are they talking about?’ They said, ‘You’ve hit a hole-in-one!’ I just picked it up and headed toward the green.
“I couldn’t make it up there. That was just crazy luck for me. But I made that putt, of course, and it turned out that was the best round of golf I ever played.”
Stapleton made only four other hole-in-ones during his 18-year career in the Maryland and American golf tour. The 99th would prove more memorable than any of the others. He missed several approaches that could have at least set up a birdie and was only two-under par for the day. Instead, he had a 13th hole-in-one at age 69.
He said that the last thing he wanted to do after making the ace was rush to his club, so he decided to stop before he got the perfect shot.
“I looked around — ‘You can’t, you’ll miss it, you’ll miss it,’ ” he said. “So I walked around. And I saw the ball lying on the fairway. I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is a hole-in-one.’ And it was.
“I just jumped up and down — from the stomach. I mean, I just enjoyed the moment.”
Stapleton, who called the moment “probably my most exciting event in golf,” shared the moment with club pro John Speelman. He plans to bring the ace out this week for some local bragging rights. He’s hoping some of his friends can share in the moment.
“I think it’s now just a part of my history that I can share with some of my friends in Colorado,” Stapleton said. “They’ll probably come out on Tuesday morning to see it.”
The day he made his hole-in-one, Stapleton played with an 11 handicap, just a level higher than the golf-course average. Two of his closest friends had handicaps less than 5, and he was even. It was a change of pace for the Wisconsin native, who would play in tournaments that sometimes required him to clear shots out of the fairway.
The achievement, along with an invitation to play in the British Open in 1906, are among the highlights of a life story that began when Stapleton was born into the Third Ward, halfway between Baltimore and Washington.
“I remember for years and years going up and down the street,” Stapleton said. “It wasn’t in the way, it was in the old part of town, and it was all farms. So I took the bus to school, and I remember a lot of the buildings had railroads right up against them and there were trains all the time.”
When he reached 15, Stapleton’s parents and teachers all saw him as a possible winner of some local tournaments and suggested he try for the Maryland State Golf Championship.
“My mother would try to fit me in some of the activities,” Stapleton said. “Because she knew how competitive I was.”
Stapleton said he never thought of himself as athletic, but had he been “half-normal” he might have had a “boyhood dream” of playing professional football.
Stapleton, now a retired chemist, remembered the 12-hole golf course at Old Shepherd’s home during the century the dirt creeks in the center of his neighborhood were flood and the land would split in two.
The water would rise and fall and sometimes flood his family’s home. He said