When you stand on the tee deck of a par-3 golf hole and look at the flag that stands more than a hundred yards away, a hole-in-one can feel like an impossible feat.
But while needing just one shot to complete a hole is extremely unlikely, golf aces also might not be quite as uncommon as you may think.
In this article, we’ll look at the probability of both amateur and professional golfers getting a hole-in-one and what goes into scoring an ace. We’ll also check out the gambling odds that are typically offered on hole-in-ones taking place in major tournaments to see if betting on aces is a smart wager or not.
What Are the Odds of Getting a Hole-In-One?
According to the U.S. Hole In One Association, the odds of a professional golfer scoring a hole-in-one on a par-3 hole are approximately 2,500 to 1. That makes them 5 times more likely to record an ace than the average amateur, whose chances of knocking their tee shot in the hole on a par-3 are around 12,500 to 1.
If you are a low-handicap player (generally shooting in the 70s or low 80s) and were to play 25 rounds per year for 40 years, you’ve got about a 20% chance to get at least one hole-in-one. If you’re generally happy to break 100 and you averaged around 12 rounds per season for 40 years, your chances of ever scoring an ace would be around 5%.
No wonder, then, that hole-in-ones are such a celebrated achievement. According to tradition, anyone who hits an ace is required to buy drinks following the round for any players who were in their group as well as anyone else who was watching. Some even believe that the player who scores a hole-in-one should buy a round of drinks for everyone in the clubhouse. That can make recording a hole-in-one an expensive proposition, but if you ever accomplish the feat, you’ll probably be happy to treat your fellow golfers to a cold one!
What Goes into Getting a Hole-In-One?
To suggest that a lot of different things need to go right for you to get a hole-in-one is an understatement, but that’s what makes it such a rare feat.
Clearly, the first thing required for a hole-in-one to take place is that the hole needs to be reachable within one shot. That essentially eliminates par-4s and par-5s from the equation (only 1 PGA Tour player has ever recorded an ace on a par-4), which limits golfers’ chances of scoring an ace to just 4 or 5 holes in a given round, depending on the course.
The next critical component of a hole-in-one is accuracy, both from a direction and distance standpoint. Obviously, you don’t have a chance at knocking the ball in the hole if you slice your drive 50 yards right of the green, and the ball won’t roll into the cup if you sail over the green into a bunker or splash the ball into the water in front of the green.
The ability to hit the ball high in the air is also an advantage when trying to get a hole-in-one. If you drill a line drive at the pin, the ball is more likely to either bounce off the flag stick or lip out of the cup. But if you can land the ball softly and allow it to roll slowly towards the hole, your chances of the ball landing in the cup are much higher.
But while accuracy and a soft touch will improve your chances of scoring an ace, luck is going to play a much more significant role in determining if and when you get a hole-in-one. Even if you estimate the impact that the wind is going to have on your ball, you’re at the mercy of a stiff gust of wind once your ball is in the air, and you never quite know exactly how the ball is going to bounce when it lands on the green.
How Often Do Hole-In-Ones Happen at a Major Championship?
If the final round of the 2016 Masters was your first time ever watching a golf major championship, you wouldn’t have thought that a hole-in-one is really that big of a deal. After all, 3 players that day (Shane Lowry, Davis Love III, and Louis Oosthuizen) needed just 1 shot to complete the 16th hole that Sunday.
Truth be told, aces at the Masters (or any other major for that matter) are much rarer than that. Even after the trifecta of hole-in-ones at the 2016 Masters and an ace the following year by Matt Kuchar, Augusta National has yielded just 28 hole-in-ones to the pros since the tournament began in 1934. Only 4 times has the Masters featured at least one ace in consecutive years, although 3 of those occasions have taken place since 2004.
The US Open has also featured just 44 aces in its history, which dates back all the way to 1895. Incredibly, nearly 10% of those hole-in-ones came within a 2-hour time span in 1989, when Drew Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate, and Nick Price each used a 7-iron to ace the 6th hole at Oak Hill Country Club.
Joost Luiten’s hole-in-one at the 2017 PGA Championship was the tournament’s first ace since 2013. Meanwhile, going into the season, only 14 hole-in-ones have been recorded in the last 23 British Open championships.
Betting on Hole-In-Ones
Outside of the extremely rare albatross (scoring 3-under on 1 hole), the hole-in-one might be the most exciting shot in all of golf. People love to cheer for hole-in-ones to take place during major tournaments, and oddsmakers are happy to oblige them by offering betting odds for aces to occur at least once during the tournament.
Generally speaking, betting odds of an ace taking place during a major are close to even money, although bookies inflated the odds on a hole-in-one taking place at the 2017 Masters to -140 on the heels of 3 aces the previous year. (And sure enough, the -140 on the ‘Yes’ cashed.)
So how can you tell whether you’re getting fair value for a hole-in-one to take place during a tournament? Well, the first step is to count the number of players in the field and estimate how many players will make the cut, which will give you a sense of how many rounds will be played during the competition. Then multiply the number of rounds by the number of par-3s on the course in order to determine how many legitimate chances players will have at an ace.
Let’s say 100 players are participating in a tournament and 50 of them will make the cut. Therefore, 50 players will play 4 rounds each (200 rounds) and 50 others will play 2 rounds (100 rounds), leaving a total of 300 rounds being played. If there are 4 par-3 holes on the course, the pros will have 1,200 chances at an ace.
At the 2,500 to 1 probability of a pro getting a hole-in-one that I mentioned earlier in this article, that suggests there’s close to a 50% chance of a player recording an ace during the tournament. But you also need to take into account the difficulty of those par-3s (longer holes will be harder to get a hole-in-one), the caliber of the field, and the history of the course.
In a 100-player field, even odds don’t seem generous enough to offer value on an ace being scored, particularly if any of the par-3s are extremely long or tricky. But in a tournament with a larger field, such as the PGA Championship that allows up to 156 players, you might be able to find some value.
While some recreational golfers may record several hole-in-ones during their lifetime, the reality is that most of us won’t ever experience the thrill of jarring our tee shot from 100 or more yards away.
In order to record an ace, you generally need to be a pretty decent player who plays dozens of rounds a year, and even that might not be enough. You still need a lot of luck on your side.
While your odds of getting a hole-in-one on a par-3 are about as likely as getting hit by lightning in your lifetime, the pros do stand a much better chance. They’re obviously more accurate and consistent off the tee, and they also play a lot more often. In fact, as of 2017, 50 players had recorded at least 5 aces in their PGA Tour career alone.
But are hole-in-one props a smart bet when it comes to major championships? That obviously depends on a variety of factors, most notably the size of the field and the venue for the tournament. To me, the rarity of aces occurring at golf majors (although they’ve been more frequent lately at the Masters) is a by-product of how much more difficult the courses are at these championships, with the extra pressure of competing in the events being another possible factor.
I just wouldn’t put any serious money on either side of this proposition.