The usual fare of professional tournaments is on the agenda this week, but the most interesting event is occurring today in St. Andrews. Jim Colton, a 39-year-old banker from Chicago, is walking at least 100 holes on the St. Andrews courses. This is part of the Hundred Hole Hike, a charitable program that he started a couple of years ago, and that has taken off.
Eighty-four golfers this year alone have walked at least 100 holes in a day and raised $550,000 for various charities. The program has raised nearly a million dollars since its inception. What a great way to raise funds for causes close to one’s heart.
Last Monday, on Canada Day, Colton played 150 holes at Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia. Ben Cowan-Dewar, the visionary co-founder, along with his partner Mike Keiser of Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Oregon, was going to hike the links with Colton, but a foot problem kept him out of action.
I caught up with Colton the night after he played Cabot Links–eight rounds and another six-hole loop to make up his 150 holes. He was in the Newark airport waiting to board a flight to Edinburgh, en route to St. Andrews. He and architect Tom Doak and two friends, including David Watt, the golf coach at St. Andrews University, had a 6:20 AM time today on the Old Course to start the hike. They played the first nine in 59 minutes. Here’s a photo that Andy Shulman, Colton’s caddy for the round, took of the foursome in front of the R&A clubhouse.
Colton played all 150 holes at Cabot on his own, except for his eighth tour of the course that has captured the golf world’s attention and, if there’s any justice, should make all top 100 lists of world rankings. A Cabot caddie was at his side every round. He’d been averaging an hour and 35 minutes or so a round in the early going, and gradually slowed down a bit–but only a bit. He could feel his play going downhill, and no golfer likes that–especially a five-handicapper like Colton.
As it happens, he ran into Harris Napon, a friend of his from Toronto. Napon and his wife were at Cabot Links on the Canada Day weekend. They decided to have a match, which got Colton back into concentrating on his golf rather than on how many holes he had played, and how many hours of daylight were left. Colton won their match 4&2. He told Napon it was payback for when Canada beat the U.S. in the Olympics. I assume he meant when Canada beat the U.S. for gold in the 2010 winter Olympics hockey final.
“The greatest part of the day was spending time with the caddies,” Colton told me. “More caddies volunteered than I needed. It was great to talk with them and to learn how much Cabot meant to them. The course is so intertwined with the town.”
The caddies didn’t leave once they’d worked their rounds carrying Colton’s clubs. One caddie, for instance, stopped his car on a road that bisects the course down near the beach. The caddies were that taken with what Colton was accomplishing.
The Hundred Hole Hike program started two years ago at the Ballyneal Golf and Country Club in Holyoke, Colorado. Colton is a member there. Ben Cox, a Ballyneal caddie, had been paralyzed in March 2011 in a skiing accident. Colton decided to raise money for him by walking the links-style course, and walking it, and walking it. He raised money from people who were captured by the idea, and walked 155 holes in one day. That was the start of the Hundred Hole Hike, a nationwide program that has now reached Canada and Scotland.
“I always had a passion for the game,” Colton said, “but until three years ago it didn’t amount to much except that. But helping people opens up a whole world.”
Golfers who have participated in Hundred Hole Hikes have raised money for an impressive number of charitable organizations. Here’s the list. Participants choose the organizations they wish to benefit. Colton helps Hundred Hole hikers set up their involvement and carry it through. Meanwhile, he continues to take his own hike regularly. He played 144 holes in Pinehurst last month, and this week, Cabot and St. Andrews. Amazing. Inspiring.
“It’s helped me in every facet of my life,” Colton told me before he boarded his flight. “It’s given me confidence. When you set a pretty extreme goal and meet it, it makes the challenges and home and work seem less.”
Colton and other participants quite naturally pick courses that are walkable. A links, or links-like course where greens and tees are near one another, and which are usually flat, is the best type of course. Colton met Cowan-Dewar last winter during an event at the new Streamsong Resort in central Florida. Doak designed the Blue course there, while Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore designed the Red course. Coore and Crenshaw are doing Cabot Cliffs, just down the road from Cabot Links. Walking is integral to the experience of playing these courses.
“I talked to Ben at Streamsong and we ironed out the plan,” Colton said of his century and more of holes that eventually transpired at Cabot Links. “Ben has been a big supporter. I have a lot of admiration for him, being the driving force at Cabot. I sit at a computer all day and dream about doing my own course. He’s done it.”
Meanwhile, I’m at my own desk in Toronto, picturing Colton in St. Andrews. He’s probably on about round eight as I complete this piece. He’s playing golf. He’s walking. He’s raising funds for important causes. Good for him.
And tomorrow, Friday?
“I’ll probably hit North Berwick,” Colton said, although not for 100 holes. Ah, another grand old links. Another wander around a links. Why wasn’t I surprised?
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein