PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Nothing gets a golf party started like a hole in one.
John Sawin, the Vice President and Director of Golf at Pebble Beach, sank a trio of them on the nine-hole, par-3 course created by Tiger Woods' TGR Design. The fourth and final one capped a memorable hike for Dan Ignatuk and his foursome.
"During the course of the day, I’ll bet we had six balls within a foot," recalled Ignatuk, who made the cross country trip from Florida to participate. "You could hear the roars around the course (after Sawin's aces). It was like The Masters. We were close. They weren’t dropping."
Ignatuk offered a little motivation to his foursome: anyone who landed an ace over the final nine holes would trigger a $500 donation to YOC. Unfortunately, 100 holes came and went, so the group decided to keep going. On the very next tee - hole 101 on the par-3 8th - playing partner Vijay Toke sank his second career ace, setting off a wild celebration from the golfers and their caddies. Sitting at the open bar, every player agreed to commit to playing together again in the same hike next year. Their bond has been sealed for life.
The best part? All four aces brought in extra money for Youth On Course in its effort to grow the game and nurture the next generation of golfers. Such an important cause tugs at a golfer's emotions every time.
"It was one of the most memorable and rewarding golf experiences of my life," Ignatuk said of the event. "I’ve played all over the world. This thing was different."
Jason Scott Deegan/GolfPass
What a turn of fortune in just 24 hours for Ignatuk. The day before, he openly wondered if he would be able to finish the hike's challenge. The 70-year-old from Palm Coast, Fla., really wanted to join his fellow hikers Thursday for celebratory golf and dinner at The Preserve, an exclusive private club hidden in the hills of Carmel Valley. His body just wouldn't let him. Ignatuk once played 216 holes in a single day for a charity event he ran in Connecticut decades ago, but his energy levels now come and go following a cancer diagnosis two years ago. Hiking with his newfound friends in golf rejuvenated his spirit.
"With all the euphoria, it carried me through," he said. "I had as much energy when I was done as when I started. It's great to be a part of something bigger than golf."
How YOU Can Support A Youth On Course Premier 100 Hole Hike
More than 250 hikers took on the hiking challenge last year, walking more than 3,300 miles at 27 courses across the country. They raised nearly $2 million for Youth on Course. The non-profit based on California's Monterey Peninsula allows junior golfers to pay just $5 to play at member courses. In 2021, Youth on Course subsidized 435,000 rounds for more than 130,000 boys and girls aged 6-18 in all 50 states, plus two provinces in Canada.
Three hikes in, the 2022 fundraising efforts have already collected $1.2 million of a $3-million goal. There's still time to donate (my hike page is still open to donations) or participate in any of the eight upcoming hikes. They require a serious commitment - raising at least $10,000 - but the rewards are plentiful ... the pre-hike round and meal at a fancy course like The Preserve, an overnight stay near the hiking site, some serious swag and all the food, drink and fun the day of the event. Meeting new friends in golf is definitely one of the biggest perks.
"It's about the people you meet and the overall experience," California-based hiker Glenn Davis said. "The Youth On Course team and the effort they put into it is amazing. We got really lucky with beautiful weather. At the end of the day, it's all about life experiences and making memories. This allows you to do that."
My first attempt doing the hike was just as memorable but for different reasons. While most of the 17 hikers were taking dead aim with wedges hunting aces, I was just hoping to hit the green. Every nine holes, I took on a new "one-club" challenge. I played all my nine-hole loops with one club and a putter, rotating two different hybrids and irons ranging from 6 iron to sand wedge throughout the eight-hour adventure. My most impressive shots were a bump-and-run hybrid to a couple inches on No. 9 and hitting the second green (an exact replica of the famous 7th at Pebble Beach Golf Links) with my son's old junior club, a Powerbilt 7 iron. Using my daughter's Hello Kitty wedge and putter made things even more interesting. I had to bend over twice as far just to make solid contact. They, too, yielded a birdie. I didn't come close to Sawin's astonishing totals of 40 birdies and three aces, although I had fun trying.
All told, I took 23,941 steps during my hike, according to the Health app on my phone. That equates to roughly 10.83 miles. A bad back will never let me play 100 regulation holes in a single day. Having a hike on a short course like The Hay, however, provided the perfect venue to check the experience off my golf bucket list. The Hay will host a second hike this fall.
"We love hosting this event," Sawin said. "Doing this in 90-degree heat on a championship golf course would be tough for even the most fit of golfers. So doing this on The Hay in this climate makes it more manageable for more people, and that’s a winning formula for Youth On Course.”