Charleston Post & Courier – May 20, 2001
By Mike Mooneyham
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.
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.
“(Alvarez) 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 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.
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 rules are very specific. I know, because I’m the one who had the contract. It’s my company.”
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, 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.”
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.