Six aces by one group had a little help | The Spirit of Golf

Tom Churchill
Photo: Courtesy Kiawah Partners
Cassique members and staff got one final bit of help from their beloved friend Tom Churchill.
By John Kim
PGA.com

Series: Spirit of Golf

Sometimes, the unexplainable is easily explained – if you know where to look.

Consider the incredible and fantastic story of the recent group outing at the Cassique Course (part of The Kiawah Island Club) – a day when six golfers (out of 71) happened to make a hole-in-one.

The story, as first reported by my colleague T.J. Auclair, did more than defy the odds; it blew them completely out of the water. Two holes-in-one would be amazing. Three would be ridiculous. Four? Five? No one would believe it. Six? Absolutely mind-boggling. No way it could happen, right?

How about, no way it could NOT happen.

Spirit of Golf: Being thankful for golf

The day, the annual Closing Day event, actually started in a very somber way.

The night before, a beloved member of the staff, Tom Churchill, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. The staff found out early that morning and most of the participants were informed when they arrived for the event.

There were lots of tears and emotion followed by a heartfelt moment of silence before the golf began. Churchie, as virtually everyone called him, was more than an assistant in the shop. He was an instructor, a playing partner, a confidante and most of all, to every man, woman and child that passed through the clubhouse doors, a great friend. In fact, many referred to him as family.

"His passion for golf and his passion for life were infectious," said Steve Kelleher, the Director of Golf at The Kiawah Island Club. "You couldn't help but smile and enjoy yourself around him."

"He battled cancer for 12 years, and I never heard him complain," said Bert Hefke, a member of the club and close friend of Churchill. "His resolve was to enjoy life every day, not be embittered about it. The truth is, many members didn't even know he was sick. That's not how he lived. It wasn't about him, it was about how he could help others."

That was one thing Churchie definitely did – help others. He would often volunteer to work weekends and holidays so that the others on staff (especially those with children) could spend time at home with them. He would come in on his days off and walk the range, offering swing tips and jokes – often going out and playing a round with members and their guests.

He spent time in Ireland at a sister course helping set up the caddie program. In fact, the only time you'd find Churchie not around others was when he was on his favorite pier (the kayak dock at Cassique) enjoying some solitude while casting a line. The one-time fishing boat captain had a love of the sea (and golf) – and his job at the Cassique Club meant he was right where he wanted to be. And of course, where so many wanted him to be.

Spirit of Golf: Big pro with an even bigger heart

So on the morning of the Closing Day tournament, as the news of his passing spread, it would have been understandable if some people weren't in the mood to play. But the group quickly resolved that this event, so near and dear to Churchie's heart (he had never missed a Closing Day event while employed there), would be the perfect way to honor his memory and love for the club. There weren't many dry eyes as the golfers took to their carts and made their way out onto the course.

The event started with a "shotgun" start, with each group starting on a different hole. Almost immediately, a roar went up from the group on the fifth hole, a roar heard around virtually the entire course. The players surmised that it was too soon after the start to be a long putt. "Churchie must have kicked one in," one player stated.

At the end of the day, as groups started to file in, people handed in their scorecards with a big smile. "We had an ace in the group," was the standard line.

"Really? Another one?"

As cards kept coming in, the amazement spread throughout the entire gathering. At first, it seemed like a fluke. Then it seemed miraculous. Then it seemed ... well, fitting.

"If you looked at not just the number of aces, but who made them – three club members, two staff members and a caddie manager – well, that's Churchie's life right there," Kelleher recalled in wonderment. "Every single person understood there was something else going on other than some good golf shots."

Spirit of Golf: Never too old to chase golf dreams

Of course, nobody is claiming Churchie guided all those aces into the cup. It's just that nobody is claiming he didn't. For a guy who spent so many years helping out at the club he loved, what's one more last great hurrah for the people he held most dear?

"This was going to be the first Closing Day without Churchie," Hefke said. "But it looks like he was there for this one, too."

The club will continue to honor Tom Churchill's memory and legacy in ways yet undetermined. One thing they do know is that they will have a ceremony down at the kayak pier, where Churchie spent so many days at his most contented, where they will spread his ashes into the water. From there, he will always be part of the water and the course – looking out after the people who looked out for him.

The Spirit of Golf is a celebration of the most important stories in golf - your stories. Though magical moments are associated with major championships or the Ryder Cup - the very best times are found when playing with family, friends, in helping a greater cause or traveling to a bucket list course. We invite all golfers to read, share and contribute their own great memories as we all work together to enjoy the "Spirit of Golf". If you have a good story for the "Spirit of Golf" - you can contact John Kim at john.kim@pga.com