Al Bingham

91-year-old flying high with first ace

Oldest member of Eaglecrest Golf Club cards first hole-in-one in 65 years of play, crosses item off bucket list

Al Bingham never got a chance to become a flying ace when he served in the air force during World War II. But the oldest member at Eaglecrest Golf Club finally achieved ace status on the golf course when he carded a hole-in-one on the 132-yard, par-3 sixth hole at Eaglecrest last Wednesday.

Bingham, 91, has been golfing for 65 years and had several close calls before draining the historic shot.

“You begin to wonder if you’re ever going to have one,” said Bingham, who moved to Qualicum Beach from Burnaby and joined the Eaglecrest club upon retirement 27 years ago. “I figured getting to play all the time, I’d improve 100 per cent everyday. It didn’t work out that way.”

Bingham was on an outing with regular playing partners Doug Stelter, Pat Ivey and Bruce Barnes, a past club champion at Eaglecrest. As he approached the sixth hole, he pulled out a low-loft hybrid club, roughly equivalent to a 5-iron.

He hit the shot and watched the ball sail straight toward the pin, then lost sight of it when it landed and never saw the ball go in the hole.

“Doug told me, ‘It went in the hole!’” said Bingham. “I didn’t believe him; I thought he was pulling my leg.”

After the back-slapping and hand-shaking, the foursome all signed the scorecard to verify the ace. Then it was time for Bingham to reach for his wallet for the time-honoured tradition of the lucky golfer picking up a round of drinks for the club.

Since few people were in the clubhouse when his group returned, he pre-payed for a wrap-up party the next day — St. Patrick’s Day — for the Mudders, a group of die-hards who play throughout the winter.

“They had a happy day at my expense,” Bingham said. “They were putting out jugs of beer on every table. But this is worth a celebration. I wasn’t worried about the cost; I’ll probably never get to see something like that again.”

Al Bingham, left, the oldest member at Eaglecrest Golf Club, is congratulated by pro shop employee Keith Hamel, centre, and Eaglecrest general manager Paul Kim after carding his first hole-in-one last week at the course. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Bingham was introduced to golf by his wife Lorna after they were married in 1948. Before that, he said, he had never so much as touched a club.

Born in Winnipeg in 1924, Bingham grew up in Edmonton and Calgary, where his sports of choice throughout his secondary school years were basketball and baseball.

“I tried hockey, but I was too skinny,” said Bingham, who retains his slender build. “I figured out pretty quick I better get a different sport.”

He turned 18 in 1943, when World War II was in full swing. His older brother was serving in the Army and would soon slog through Holland with the Allied forces that liberated that country beginning the next year. But Al had a different type of service in mind when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I joined up to fly, but they found out I didn’t have the colour vision to qualify,” he said. “That’s probably the only reason I’m not a splat on the bottom of the English Channel.”

The Air Force did, however, need mechanics, and he served out the rest of his tour in Canada working on craft destined to help the war effort.

After the war, he enrolled in an aeronautical engineering program at the University of Toronto on the recommendation of military officials who noted his high marks on aptitude exams.

“I passed the first year, but I was way out of my element,” Bingham said.

He was planning to marry anyway, and his fiancé lived in B.C., so Bingham made the move west and switched his studies to mechanical engineering, at the University of British Columbia. That led eventually to a 30-plus year career with CP Air in Richmond, broken up partway through by a short stint with Canada Air.

“I came back because I found I was shovelling snow in Montreal,” he deadpanned.

While working in Richmond, Bingham was a member of the nearby Quilchena Golf & Country Club. It was there, one year, that he had his closest previous brush with a hole-in-one.

“I’ve had a lot of close calls, a lot of balls stop just before the hole, or lip out,” he said. “That time, we were playing in a tournament, and Cec Ferguson, the club pro, was in the group in front of me. He said my shot rolled halfway around the hole and hit the stick, which was leaning because of the wind, and stayed out.

“He made a comment to me at that time that, ‘If that didn’t go in, you’re never gonna get one.’”

At age 59, Bingham “pulled the plug” and moved with Lorna to Qualicum Beach, where they built a home in Eaglecrest and promptly joined the golf club.

“It was a nine-hole course when I first joined,” he said. “There have been a lot of changes. I’m glad they made it 18 and found a way to fit those other holes here.”

With plenty of time and plenty of holes, Bingham embarked on the quest to prove Ferguson wrong by nailing that elusive hole-in-one.

“I had a bucket list with three things I wanted to do before I pass away,” he said. “First, I wanted to shoot my age,” — which he accomplished at age 83 — “The second was to make a hole-in-one. The third is to see the (Vancouver) Canucks win the Stanley Cup.”

Then Bingham paused with the timing of a comic with a well-honed punch line.

“I guess I’m gonna have to stick around here a lot longer.”

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