After 37 years of golf and 90 years on this planet, Irene Pritchard got her first hole-in-one two weeks ago at Olomana Golf Links. While that might be the most striking accomplishment in her athletic career, it might not be her greatest golfing accomplishment.
That comes every time she practices at painfully hilly Pali Municipal Golf Course. Pritchard, who turns 91 in December, walks the front nine with her pull cart. Younger golfers — much younger golfers — quiver at the thought.
Not Pritchard, who would like her "thirty-something" handicap to be back down in the 20s. She is a firm believer in "strong antioxidants" and "for 90, I think I’m pretty healthy."
But life sometimes gets in the way of the golf course. She cooks and cleans for her son and grandson, who now live with her. She also takes the 9-year-old to school when his father, John, works as a starter at Pali.
"I’m not playing like I was before," she says. "Before I’d make sure to play three times a week to be in the groove. Since 2009, I have no time. … It’s rough. I would like to golf three times a week if I could, but now I’m down to about once a month."
That once was April 23, with a group from her Pali View Baptist Church. She took two clubs to the tee at the par-3 eighth hole, not quite sure what the wind was like between her and the 87 yards to the hole.
"Usually the wind is into your face on that hole, so I grabbed my driver and took my hybrid, not knowing the strength of the wind," Pritchard recalled. "I’ve hit it in the water many times before so I said I’m not taking a chance, I’ll use my driver."
Great choice. Her playing partners on the left told her the ball was in, but the one on the right thought it had passed the hole and run to the back bunker.
"So I wasn’t excited at all," Pritchard said. "We went to look in the bunker and there was no yellow ball. We looked in the hole and lo and behold, it was waiting for us. It was a great experience. My one and only after 37 years of golfing."
She is not the oldest. Four years ago Elsie McLean aced a 100-yard hole in Chico, Calif., also using her driver. She was 102.
That takes no luster off Pritchard’s feat. She shot 109 that day at Olomana — 53 on the front nine. Not one of her better days, with one remarkable exception, but OK for someone who didn’t start playing until she was 54, Pritchard figures.
"When you’re already over 50 you’re not like the young ones," she says. "You cannot turn your shoulder. That limits my distance."
She only started in the game because her husband felt guilty. After the Pritchards spent five years in Saudi Arabia, where he was on assignment, he took a job with the city when they came home. His boss golfed and, in June of 1971, he gave it a try and got hooked.
"He didn’t realize it was so expensive, so he felt guilty," Pritchard said. "Two months later, he bought a set of clubs for me."
She took her son to Bayview for golf lessons when he was 4. Irene decided to take her own lessons at Bayview, and from Lloyd Nakama at Olomana. Until a few years ago, she played faithfully with the Pali Wahine Club.
She has already sent in her entry form for the 41st annual Hawaii Okinawan Invitational the end of this month at Pali.
"I’ve got to make sure I practice for the seventh hole," Pritchard says. "That’s a par-3."