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The Etiquetteist: Do I really have to buy drinks after a hole-in-one?

November 29, 2019

According to oddsmakers and actuaries, you, the average golfer, have a roughly 1 in 12,500 chance of making a hole-in-one. What’s 100 percent certain, if and when you finally card one, is that someone’s going to tell you that you’re buying the drinks.

They might even suggest that you owe everyone in the clubhouse a round. Do you, really?

On the face of it, it runs counter to reason — executing a heroic shot, only to be slapped with a humungous bar bill. Yet evidence suggests that the practice dates back at least 100 years; as early as 1918, newspaper articles refer to the sale of hole-in-one insurance.

What gave rise to the drinks-buying tradition isn’t clear. One theory holds that golf clubs encouraged it to boost profits, or to make golfers think twice before they fabricated stories about making an ace.

We know you’d never do that. Still, the question lingers: what kind of tab are you looking at?

“On the one hand, I get the concept of buying drinks,” says Mancil Davis, aka The King of Aces. “Something good has happened to you, so the idea is you should share your good fortune.”

But, he adds, “let’s not get carried away.”

At 65, Davis has experience on this front. He’s the world-record holder for verified holes-in-one, with a staggering 51 of them to his name.

As he sees it, an ace is akin to many of life’s celebratory moments — weddings, birthdays or the birth of a child. If you’re feeling flush, you might raise a glass with everybody and their uncle. But the only expectation — and your only obligation — is to mark the occasion with those closest to you.

In other words, buy drinks for the players in your group, but feel free to stop there.

If that seems stingy to you, take comfort in the fact that the matter might be moot. Many private clubs carry hole-in-one insurance. Some even include it in their membership dues. It covers the cost of a lot of Ketel One. What’s more, if you’re playing as a guest, the club might not accept your money, anyway.

At a resort or public course that’s crowded with golfers you’ve never met, buying drinks will turn you into the toast of the clubhouse. But that honor doesn’t merit going into bankruptcy.

As a compromise, Davis says, you could buy a single bottle of booze and leave it at the bar for the masses to enjoy until it’s empty.

People will sing your praises, the bill won’t be too bad, and, based on the statistics, it will be awhile before you have to deal with the expense again.

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