In Depth: the likelihood of a hole-in-one

HOW are the odds of a hole-in-one calculated? Where does the '12,500 to 1' for a hole-in-one by an amateur golfer come from in the first place?

WITHOUT doubt the highlight of The Barclays tournament on the weekend was the sensational win from Australia's Jason Day. But while Day was racing to victory, a remarkable and very rare feat occurred.

American Brian Harman holed his 7-iron on the par-3 third for his first tournament hole-in-one. No big deal really, the chances of a professional golfer making an ace is around 2,500 to 1. Miguel Angel Jimenez has had 10 of them to hold the record on the European Tour, while Hal Sutton carded the same number to hold the record on the PGA Tour - Australia's Robert Allenby has nine to his name on the PGA Tour. 

But Harman made another hole-in-one later in his round. At the par-3 14th hole his tee shot rolled into the hole to card two aces in one round, something that’s only ever been done twice before on the PGA Tour.

Not surprisingly, the odds of an amateur golfer making a hole-in-one is longer and is often quoted as being 12,500 to 1. They stretch out to 67million to 1 for an amatuer golfer making two aces in a round - like when Euan Evans did it at Royal Melbourne late last year or when Jim Jackson did it at Capital Golf Club in Canberra just a few weeks later.

When Phil DeAraugo carded two holes-in-one in two days a few weeks ago at Neangar Park Golf Club we were simply told that the odds were ‘astronomical’.

So how are these odds calculated anyway? Where does the '12,500 to 1' for a hole-in-one by an amateur golfer come from in the first place?

The odds come from hole-in-one insurance companies that ‘cover’ golf tournaments. They’re on hand to insure for a hole-in-one being made during a golf tournament and like any good insurance company would do, they keep tabs on how often they need to pay out after a golfer has made a hole-in-one.

Some of these insurance companies have accumulated 20 - 30 years of data and can make a decent estimation of the likelihood of a hole-in-one occurring for amateurs and professionals.

So when we hear that the odds of a golfer making a hole-in-one is 12,500 to 1, it’s not some calculation based on swing physics, golfer ability, atmospheric considerations and hole difficulty. But just a number based on how many times it's happened while an insurance company was covering a golf tournament. In this case, it’s happened on average around once for every 12,500 times an amateur golfer has hit a tee shot on par-3.



One of the more interesting statistics is the chances of any amateur golfer making a hole-in-one on any day.

If a golf tournament has four par-3s and has 100 golfers in the field (ie 400 tee shots on par-3s) the odds of any golfer making a hole-in-one are 1 in 32. Put a different way, if you play in 32 events in a field of 100 golfers it’s likely that someone will have made a hole-in-one during one of them.

Suddenly, it all seems a bit more real right? Are you feeling better about your chances? Perhaps the next time you tee it up the odds don't seem so long after all.

Remember these numbers are just an average across golfers of all skill level, across many tournaments over 30 years.

If we look at it optimistically (which is the best way to approach anything with regard to golf) it may mean that for you - the odds may be a lot lower. And certainly not astronomical.


Michael GreenMichael Green founded AussieGolfer.com.au - Australia's #1 golf blog - in 2007, is a member of The Australian Golf Writers Association and has covered some of Australia's biggest golf tournaments, including the Australian Open, the Presidents Cup and World Cup of Golf.

Michael began playing golf as a 10-year-old in Adelaide where his father introduced him to the game.

He has managed to maintain a single-figure handicap while studying, living and working abroad and keeping a close eye on his three children.

Michael has a PhD in Physics and when not writing about golf, he continues to work in medical research in Sydney.

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