An article by Mike Mooneyham
May 20, 2001
Tully Blanchard couldn’t help but think about how great it would be to win a new car as he teed off at the recent Camp Happy Days and Special Times Celebrity Golf Classic. After all, the road-weary Blanchard had logged 189,000 miles on his ’94 Dodge Intrepid, most of them traveling throughout the Southeast fulfilling his prison ministry duties.
The 47-year-old Blanchard, better known for his exploits in the squared circle than on the links, had a good feeling about his first shot of the day at Coosaw Creek Country Club on May 7. It was on the 15th hole, and tournament sponsor Stokes Volkswagen had sweetened the deal by offering a brand new Passat valued at $23,000 to any extremely lucky golfer who could ace it.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Blanchard, who had driven from Rutherfordton, N.C., for the event, still figured he had a better chance at winning the lottery than landing a hole-in-one – that is, until he actually swung his 7-iron and saw the ball disappear into the hole.
“It was the first hole we played – the first time I swung the club in the tournament,” said Blanchard. “Bingo. Hole-in- one.”
It had indeed been Blanchard’s lucky day – at least for the moment. But Blanchard, basking in the -spotlight of his first-ever ace, would have the luster removed before finishing his outing on the course.
“I was thrilled. I thought I had won a car – for about three holes.” That’s when former Atlanta pitcher Jose Alvarez, whose company had provided the special hole-in-one insurance, balked. Alvarez, the Braves’ 1988 MVP who played professional baseball for 16 years before retiring for the celebrity golf tour, pointed out that the markers hadn’t been properly placed. Blanchard’s ace turned out to be from 141 yards, instead of the regulation 175. And that meant no car.
“We had played several holes when Jose Alvarez, one of the celebrities playing in the tournament who had also sold the insurance policies, approached us,” explained Blanchard. “He says tough luck, I can’t win the car. That’s just the way it is – because he didn’t go check the holes and make sure the yardages were right. If Jose was the agent and he sold the insurance, I would think it would have been his job to make sure the holes were set up right before the tournament, which obviously he did not. When he saw this thing at 140 yards after the fact and knew there was somebody on the line for a car, he started calling people.”
Blanchard, who had just finished an interview with a local TV station, quite naturally was dismayed, as were a number of fellow golfers on the course that day. To many who were there, an ace is an ace is an ace. But rules are rules, and Alvarez was required to enforce them.
“It certainly started taking the glitter off the day,” said Blanchard, an original member of The Four Horsemen along with Ole Anderson, Arn Anderson and Ric Flair, who retired from pro wrestling in 1991 to pursue a career in the ministry. And although he was disheartened by the incident, he said it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm or support for Camp Happy Days and Special Times, which does an admirable job serving hundreds of children and their families who have been touched by cancer.
The unfortunate situation still left all parties trying to explain what had gone wrong and left Blanchard with one burning question: “How does the guy who gets the hole-in-one not get the car?”
“The insurance company they underwrote with started screaming that the tee was in the wrong place,” said Blanchard. “How was that my fault? That would be the insurance policy’s out.”
Stokes, which as a sponsor had advertised the car as a prize, had purchased the hole- in-one insurance from Alvarez’ company, which he says would have gladly paid up had the ace met the yardage requirements.
“It was a terribly unfortunate deal,” said Alvarez. “Tully went out there and hit a shot from where the markers were, but the sign said that for anyone to be eligible for a hole-in-one, they had to hit from 175 yards. He hit it from about 140 yards. The contract on the insurance calls for it to be hit from 175 yards. The rules are very specific. I know, because I’m the one who had the contract. It’s my company.”
Alvarez emphasized that the rules are carefully written and must be adhered to.[ad#MikeMooneyham-468×15]
“We pay off several hundred thousand dollars a year in prizes, and it’s factored in. Our underwriter would in no way honor this because every claim is reported and carefully gone over just to make sure it’s legit.”
Alvarez admitted that it was unfortunate that the markers weren’t properly placed.
“Tully made the ace, and because someone at the golf course didn’t set the markers where they should have been, there’s nothing that can be done as far as him getting the car,” said Alvarez. “The auto dealer is not at fault. They paid their premium. We’re not at fault. We don’t go to every tournament and put the stuff out. The fortunate thing is that I was playing in the tournament.
“When I saw that we got to the first hole and it was for the Volkswagen bug and it had them (the markers) at 141 yards and was supposed to be 175, I called someone and said we need to hit from back here and we need to move, and that they should probably go back and check all the other holes to make sure it was done right. They started checking them, and when we got up to the hole where Tully made the ace, they still didn’t have the markers set right. It was at about 160 yards. They fixed it and then told me that they already had a hole-in-one. I said, ‘Don’t tell me that.'”
Eddie Stokes of Stokes Volkswagen shared similar sentiments.
“A mistake was made, and everybody wants to point the finger … Somebody dropped the ball. I wasn’t in on that part of the loop. I was playing golf, but I didn’t see it happen. I heard about it after the fact that the pins weren’t the right distance. It’s very unfortunate. If the man had been at the pins, maybe he wouldn’t have made the hole-in-one. But still, either way, he made a hole-in-one, and that’s something some people never do in a lifetime.”
Possibly the most distraught party was was Camp Happy Days and Special Times founder and executive director director Debby Stephenson, who was a member of Blanchard’s team when he sank the ace.
“I want to die a thousand deaths. It was really all so unnecessary.”
Explained Stephenson: “They brought the car out. The golf course usually sets the pin. They were waiting to hear that the cars were there. My staff never told them that the cars were there. They just went out and put the cars out there, and they didn’t know that you had to place those pins back, which was no excuse. We were the first ones on the hole. Tully hit the shot and got the hole-in-one.”
Stephenson said that was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
“What’s the chance of getting the hole-in- one in the first place? That never even entered our mind. It’s like Murphy’s law. I don’t think anybody did it intentionally or didn’t do it intentionally.”
Stephenson, who started the camp nearly 20 years ago, said it was an honest mistake.
“Normally it’s the golf course’s responsibility to place the markers. On the other hand, they were going to do that, but they were waiting for the cars to get there. My staff put the cars out there, but they just didn’t tell the golf course, not knowing they had to. The golf course didn’t know that the cars were there. The right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing … I guess it’s everybody’s fault.”
Blanchard has his own opinion.
“Stokes put up the car, the insurance balks. And now everybody’s scrambling because nobody wants to come up with the 25 grand.”
Blanchard said he didn’t feel the cars had to be present in order for the markers to be set correctly.
“I played one hole over there that was $10,000 – 5 to the charity and 5 to the golfer – and they didn’t have $10,000 sitting there at the side of the hole. They had the hole sponsor sign set on the hole, they had the hole-in-one sign set on the hole, and they had the white markers. I would think think that your announcer at the start of the golf tournament would announce the prizes or have it written that they have to be a certain yardage and the yardage is set, and the golfers are out there for a fun day of golfing and whatever. It’s not their job to go out and figure if it’s the right distance.”
“Apparently the people running the tournament were supposed to do it (set the markers),” said Coosaw Creek Country Club assistant Andy Schumacher. “At least that particular day they were. Somebody here asked the guy bringing the car out there if we needed to do anything regarding the tee markers and was told we didn’t, that Happy Days had that all taken care of.”
“Tully definitely got the hole-in-one,” said Stevenson. “When he went up to give his card to the people in the tournament, they didn’t even acknowledge or congratulate him. He won the car, but he didn’t win the car.”
“They didn’t even give me a certificate, they didn’t say `great for the hole-in-one.’ Why didn’t they record it as a hole-in-one? That was bizarre,” said Blanchard.
“He never even came into the golf shop after that,” said Schumacher, who added that it was Blanchard’s responsibility to bring in his scorecard and record his list of witnesses. “I was here all day and I never ever saw the guy.”
At least 25 people reportedly witnessed the shot.
“God knows, I was excited when he got that hole-in-one,” said Stephenson. “But then they called me on the fifth hole and said he didn’t really win the car. I understand how these legal things work, and we’re caught in that go-between, but I don’t understand why he didn’t get any acknowledgment for that hole-in-one or why he didn’t get a car or anything.”
Stephenson said last week she was attempting to put together a golf vacation package for Blanchard. Alvarez, who mentioned a “bonus prize” of a six-day, five- night trip to Mexico, tried to put a positive spin on the situation.
“Tully went out and had a good day of golf. He made an ace, and he still could end up with something that’s nice. Is it a $23,000 vehicle? No. But he certainly is going to get more than had he not made an ace. He’s going to get something … Tully’s a good friend of mine. We’ve done a lot of ministry work together. I’m certainly trying to empathize with him. If he had made the hole-in-one from 175 yards, he would have a new car right now. No questions asked.”
Blanchard still wants the car.
“Everybody can say it’s just a mistake, but when mistakes cost people money, somebody’s gotta pay. If I don’t advertise a wrestling show and it flops, I still have to pay wrestlers.”