Before we get to blisters and Body Glide, aches and apathy, pain and a little perspective, let’s go back a few months and answer the question: Who was the inspiration to play 108 holes under the same sun?
I went with San Diego, one of 24 destinations around the country to choose from. San Diego is where I have some family and friends, and I also saw that if I played there, I’d be paired with John Ashworth, who was already signed up for the date that worked with my schedule. The apparel icon who started Ashworth is no longer with the company that kept his name. John recently started Linksoul, another clothing line for golfers. I had played golf with Ashworth a few times. He’s a spiritual guy who still plays with wooden woods and Dixon balls, which are “eco-friendly.” He’s also a soft-spoken, smooth-swinging 4-handicap with a healthy competitive spirit. If Ashworth, 52, wanted to link souls through 100 holes of golf, I was in.
And besides that, July 16 was my 41st birthday. I thought it would feel good to give back to the karmic gods who’ve been more than generous to the general quality of my life.
My charity of choice would be Through Kyle’s Eyes, which raises awareness for retinoblastoma. As you might know by now, Kyle Lograsso is the kid Dave Kindred wrote about for Golf Digest in 2007. In the story called “Courage of a Tiger,” Kindred captured the spirit of a 4-year-old avid golfer who lost an eye to cancer when he was 2.
Over the years, I’ve stayed close to Kyle and his parents. Such an inspirational family, through annual fundraisers and frequent phone calls to discuss various aspects of life, they’ve taught me a lot about being selfless and resilient. In addition to those karmic gods, the Hundred Hole Hike was a chance to give something back to the Lograssos.
What all seemed so right, on the morning of the hike, started to go so wrong. As my dad and I were driving through the dark hills of Oceanside, polishing off a McDonald's meal and some coffee, we were navigating steep slopes looking for the entrance to the course. Like the breakfast sandwich that was hitting the bottom of my empty stomach, so was the realization that I probably should’ve done some research on the venue. The name Goat Hill was now a cause for concern.
Once we found the locked entrance gate, we had to wait. Bob Stewart was the first employee on the scene. He walked up to our car window at 5:30 a.m. and asked: “Are you guys here for the hike?”
“We are,” I said.
“I figured.” And he led the way up an incline to the golf shop.
After some sleepy handshakes, the first ball was in the air at 5:50, just as the sun was shedding light onto our undulating future. The third in our group was Derek Drish, a land planner and landscape designer who flew in from San Francisco. It was just the three of us, and it was on the third hole--the third hole of walking down a steep slope to the fairway and then walking up a steep slope to get to the green--that I knew I was screwed.
This terrain, simply put, was insane. To walk 18 holes would be a legitimate hike. “Most people say they can’t walk it once,” Stewart said. If all went as planned, we would walk it six times.
Tipped out, the 18-hole course, which has great greens, decent tees, playable fairways and a lot of rough around the edges, is only 4,800 yards. But on this day, and given the circumstances, that number was deceiving. Goat Hill is no goat flats.
Ashworth had his 15-year-old son, Max, as his caddie, and he carried only seven clubs, some tees and a few extra balls. Drish had his girlfriend, Jill Koenen, as his caddie. At the start, she was the one carrying the bag. I had my 78-year-old dad with 178-year-old knees, riding along in a cart, while I carried my bag.
I have a best friend who lives in San Diego. Todd Curran was going to try to join me to carry my bag the last 36 holes. And on the ninth hole of the first round I texted him: “Will need you today, Buddy.”
The text back: “Sorry, buddy, not going 2 make it up there today. How u holding up ?”
How was I holding up? I was holding everything but up. At that point, with less than one round in the books, I started to panic. I wondered how and why Ashworth would pick such an extreme venue to play such an outrageous number of holes in a day. “I was worried you guys would hate Goat Hill,” he said at one point in the day.
I was hating myself. I’d made every conceivable planning mistake. I hadn’t trained for such a day. I didn’t have a change of shirt, socks or an extra pair of shoes. The pair I was wearing was TRUE Linkswear, supplied by an event sponsor, which specializes in comfort. But now I was beginning to notice that they were a little big on me--a fact I would’ve picked up on had I worn them for more than nine holes prior to the hike.
I called my dad over and unloaded everything that I didn’t absolutely need from my bag into his cart. I also removed two clubs, a 4-iron and a 3-rescue, which helped lighten the load.
Another one of my friends, who’s a doctor, sent me a text after he heard I had started my hike: “One word for you: Gatorade.” Which is when I asked my dad to make a run to the store for liquids, ice and Body Glide. It was a critical shopping spree with a sense of urgency.
The first 18 holes took two hours and eight minutes. The second 18 took us two hours and 10 minutes. We were putting everything out. And on the 44th hole, almost six hours into our day, and halfway through the third round, I started to think I wasn’t going to make it much farther. Doubt, it turns out, can be just as heavy as a golf bag. What seemed like such a good idea started looking like it made as much sense as a green with no hole.
And right about the time I was convincing myself the concept of quitting was pathetic, little Kyle Lograsso came running out to the ninth green.
Kyle and his mom, Regina, had driven from their home in nearby Murrieta to show their support. After a memorable hug, (Kyle comes up to my hip), he asked if he could play a hole with us. His timing? Impeccable.
Even though Ashworth was playing for the San Diego After-School All-Stars & North County Junior Golf Association, and Drish was playing for Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Greater Bay Area Chapter, by simply showing up, and by projecting his boyish energy with the fervor of a cancer survivor, it all became a meaningful mission again. Through Kyle’s character, the group found clarity. This wasn’t about us, and it certainly wasn’t about my physical fatigue. This was about helping parents of kids like Kyle know what they should be looking for to catch a curable cancer before it costs their child his or her eyes. Or worse, their life.
I was going to finish this hike, and thanks to Kyle, I was going to do it with the proper perspective. From that point on, it became a synchronized group effort. It was always about the causes of our choice, but the day also was very much about the crew.
Kyle ended up walking nine holes with us, carrying my bag, which was about his size, for at least six of those holes. I appreciated the break and lost myself in our conversation.
Little Lograsso hit a few shots and talked to me about Phil, Tiger and his new club.
I reached into his bag and pulled out the shortest driver I had ever seen. “You have a Cleveland Classic?”
“Yep,” said Kyle, 10, who’s a lefty. “I just got it. I’ve wanted a Cleveland Classic my whole life.”
After we all stopped for a 20-minute lunch--food donated by Thai Society in Encinitas--Kyle and Regina gave us a bag of power snacks and they wished us a fantastic finish.
@KyleLograsso tweeted: “Thank you @Matt_Ginella for raising money for my foundation and golfing 100 holes.”
With three rounds to go, it was time to get back to Goat’s unforgiving hills.
The fourth round took us two hours and 14 minutes. We started walking in our footsteps and hitting tee shots in what felt like our old divots.
The Body Glide, which prevents chafing, was preventing chafing. I had a massive blister forming on the ball of my left foot. And although I was limping, I was going to finish. As we were walking up the 72nd fairway, Ashworth offered advice: “Let’s putt out here and go straight to the first tee. No break before we start the fifth round.”
A veteran move. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and it was hot, but thankfully there was still a slight breeze. We had less than five hours of daylight to play the last 28 holes, which would get us to 100. But at one point we had all agreed that the plan was to play 36 more and get to a total of 108.
As we finished the fifth round we got what seemed like a sixth wind. What was left of our adrenaline was the best of the batch. Even the steepest of uphill climbs started to feel like they were downhill.
Standing on the last of the first-tee shots of the day, with a final 18 in front of us, I was impressed by the layers of sweat and blown away by the barnyard smells coming from my soaked shirt. Both feet were now full of blisters. The tweak in my neck had to be a nerve from the bag strap digging into my right shoulder. I couldn’t help but take some pride in the pains. I realized that for as many things that I did wrong leading up to this day, the one thing that I did right is what mattered most: I was doing it.
A few holes into the start of the sixth round, @KyleLograsso tweeted again: “@Matt_Ginella you're almost done!!!!! You're the best and I wish I was there with u. #ursavingkidseyes.”
I read Kyle’s tweet to the group. One more inspirational push and we were having fun playing golf again. Which is when we started documenting the day by shooting pictures.
Camaraderie and accomplishment was kicking any early self-loathing down one of Goat’s many hills. And as much as we were bonding as a sixsome, it was about this time I felt that each golfer starting to appreciate their partners.
Ashworth had Max, a respectful young man with his father’s sense of style and similar personalities. As we chipped and putted around Goat Hill’s well-manicured greens, Max would squirrel away a short rest in some cool shade.
Derek had Jill, who was a trooper. Ashworth and I originally set the over/under for her following us around, carrying Derek’s bag, at two rounds. They split the bag-carrying duties throughout the hike, but she was with us all day.
“Through the first five or six holes, I thought, This is going to be the worst day of my life,” said Jill, who’s on the board of Make-A-Wish’s Greater Bay Area Chapter. “But as time went on, the team and family dynamic kicked in. Everyone was helping each other out.”
Of course, I had my dad.
Papa John and I bonded that day at Goat Hill. Separated by almost 70 years, he has a lot in common with Kyle when it comes to addictive energy. My dad wasn’t stopping, so how could I? And he did a lot more than just hang out and drive a cart. He managed the cooler full of liquids and went ahead and helped us find wild tee shots. He’d hoot for good shots from behind greens, hobble up to tend flags, and very diplomatically cleared tees of other golfers we’d catch in front of us. His limps got worse as the day went on. Now, as we were getting closer to this distant finish line, so were mine. But being a former collegiate boxing coach, my dad brought out the fighters in all of us. Hard to think I could’ve done it without him.
Albeit insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I did keep my scores. I got all six mediocre rounds on one card.
On the par 66, I shot rounds of: 79, 80, 76, 82, 77 and 79 for a total of 473. I averaged 78, Drish averaged 76 and Ashworth averaged 70. At times during every round, I struggled. From shanks to kick-away birdies, we all hit every shot a golfer could imagine. On the 16th hole of the sixth round, the 106th of the day, it was the closest I came to making a hole-in-one. (A 9-iron to 18 inches.)
Over the course of 108 holes, there were other friends and family who came out and supported our causes. The group never got bigger than 11 at any given time. Ashworth’s wife and nephew both came out. And Ashworth had mobilized some local media to cover the event, getting the exposure he wanted for a course he cared about.
A special thanks to Goat Hill’s Bob Stewart, 57, went above and beyond the call of his duty. Not only did the course donate the green fees ($23 per round, which included a cart) but Stewart was with us throughout the day, handing out drinks and looking for lost balls. For anyone to execute a Hundred Hole Hike, you need a cooperative venue with a courteous staff, and that was certainly true of what we had at Goat Hill.
As it was getting as dark as when it all started, it occurred to me: this was golf in all of its glory.
“We like to say the Goat giveth and the Goat taketh away,” Ashworth said. On this day, the course was taking its toll, but it was also affording us the opportunity to give back. Not only were we playing for charities and keeping each other company, we were trying to beat each other out of a 108-hole bet: Who could make the most birdies? They came in bunches for Ashworth, who finished with 14. Drish and I both had six.
The hike ended on the 18th green with hats off and lots of sticky hugs. Then we all celebrated by coming down off that hill and eating copious amounts of sushi.
I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and relief. Drish’s GPS on his phone tracked our trip: We walked 20.11 miles in 14 hours and 28 minutes. We went up and down almost a mile throughout the day.
“The whole reason to do something like we did,” Ashworth said over cold beers, “is to help people.”
Jim Colton gets credit for launching the concept of the Hundred Hole Hike. In 2011 he played 155 holes for Ben Cox, a caddie at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club in Holyoke, Colo., who was paralyzed in a skiing accident.
The expansion of Colton’s philanthropic concept has been a huge success. This year there were 63 nationwide hikers, and as of July 17, 56 of them had raised more than $264,000.
Thanks to my group of supporters, I raised $3,500 for Through Kyle’s Eyes, which was nothing compared to the $90,000 Kyle raised by playing 100 holes of his own at his home course the following Friday. Of which, $10,000 was a donation by PGA Tour player J.B. Holmes.
Kyle, who took a cart, insisted on playing 109 holes just to beat me.
Jeff Lograsso told me his son stopped the cart after 108 holes and asked the assembled group of 50 supporters to walk the 109th hole with him. And, of course, they all did. Who wouldn’t follow a kid with the courage of a Tiger?
@KyleLograsso tweeted again: “Going to walk my last hole in honor of all RB kids fighting cancer today. I will make a difference. 109 going down.”
Three weeks later, my blisters are gone. So is my limp, and there’s no more pain in my neck. Kyle Lograsso’s sight in his left eye is gone forever. And that’s why I hiked.
You can still donate here.