After 90 years, 7 holes-in-one, finally one for himself

Bruce Mason
The Detroit News

Rod Kallgren took a swing with his 8-iron and didn’t know where the 122-yard tee shot landed. The elevated green created a blind approach at Fort Sill Golf Course in Oklahoma.

Kallgren thought he struck the ball well, but as he and his artillery school classmates searched the surrounding areas of the green — no golf ball in sight — he was rather surprised to finally hear someone say it was inside the cup.

On that day in 1951, Kallgren had his first hole-in-one.

Sixty-six years later, he recorded an ace at Dearborn Hills Golf Course to complete a tale he’s crafted for decades — one that will carry on for generations.

“I have six sons. I said, ‘Well, I’ll get a hole-in-one for each of the boys,’ which I did,” said the 90-year-old Dearborn resident, who was a battery commander on the front lines of the Korean War in 1952. “And then I got my seventh, and I said, ‘Well, I got a hole-in-one for my wife.’

“And then I said I was going to work on getting a hole-in-one for me — and I finally did.”

Kallgren’s eighth ace occurred July 5 on the 140-yard sixth hole of the Dearborn Hills executive course during his Henry Ford Village senior league. His club of choice? Some call it a 5-wood; Kallgren calls it a “5-metal.” Perhaps that’s because he was around when the wooden Ginty was popular — a stark contrast to the alloys used today.

Regardless, Kallgren has maintained his smooth stroke through the years — and maybe his precision derives from his father, an engineer who helped construct the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in 1928.

“I think it’s the style of his play. He always just aims right at the pin,” said his 57-year-old son, Chris Kallgren. “At his age, he’s still striking the ball well, it’s just not going as far.”

Rod Kallgren began striking the ball in the 1930s when he hopped on his bike, golf clubs in tow, and pedaled to Chandler Park in Detroit. Later, his family moved to Virginia — and while he credits the warmer weather for longer golf seasons, he honed his craft between caddie jobs at Ocean View Golf Course in Norfolk.

Kallgren stuffed a bowling bag full of golf balls and practiced shots as he waited for the the caddie master to call his name. As he worked on the skills that would eventually lead to his hole-in-one heroics, Kallgren had the opportunity to caddy for a Virginia native and one of the greatest golfers who ever lived.

Sam Snead, on one memorable day in the early 1940s, ordered Kallgren to pick up a bag, and then paid him a respectable wage when the round was over.

“I made a whole dollar. The going rate was 75 cents for 18 holes — and they’d tip you a quarter,” said Kallgren, who watched the tee shots of a man nicknamed Slammin’ Sammy, the eventual all-time record holder of 82 PGA Tour wins. “I couldn’t club him, because I never carried a bag for anybody who hit the ball as far as he did. I was just a pack rat.”

Kallgren eventually developed into a scratch golfer and joined Orchard Lake Country Club. That’s where he notched two of his aces on the exact same hole — sweet No.16 — three years apart.

In 1985, Kallgren sank a hole-in-one and repeated the feat two months later. In 1988, he had two aces 34 days apart.

“They seem to come in bunches when I stop and look at them,” said Kallgren, who was born on the same day that Charles Lindbergh landed the first solo nonstop, transatlantic flight in Paris on May 21, 1927. “But you know, there’s so much luck in getting a hole-in-one, anyway. I guess if you hit enough golf balls, eventually something will go in.

“Who can tell? I’ve known a lot of guys that were a lot better golfers than I am, (and) they had a lot of balls that were maybe inside a foot, but they just never got one to fall in. So, you know, what can I say?”

While the Official Rules of Golf do not address the validity of a hole-in-one, the USGA recommends that the feat be attested by a playing partner.

All of Kallgren’s aces are attested by a playing partner, and each scorecard is also signed by the pro at each course.

In 1966, Kallgren aced the 205-yard 15th hole at Currie Golf Course in Midland — the town where all six of his boys were born. He laughs that he missed the green all year long until the day of the ace.

And 51 years to the day of the hole-in-one in Midland, Chris Kallgren videotaped the scene of his dad reaching into the cup for his eighth ace in Dearborn.

“I’ll never forget that until the day I die,” Chris Kallgren said. “That was just a magic moment. But I think for my dad, it was just another ordinary day, ho-hum.”

Rod Kallgren stopped golfing for several years to assist his wife, Jean, who battled Alzheimer’s and passed away in May 2016. But at the urging of his sons, he resumed golfing this spring and has added to the holes-in-one legacy.

Kallgren enjoys that golf is unlike other sports — you can play your entire life.

He’s running out of fingers to count his rare feat. And with 18 grandkids, three great-grandchildren (and a fourth on the way), the discussion among his sons is for Kallgren to keep notching aces for the whole family.

“It’s not time to leave Earth yet,” said Scott Kallgren, 58, the third son of the group. “We’re telling him: ‘You can’t stop now, Dad.’

Bruce Mason is a freelance writer.

Rod Kallgren’s holes-in-one

October 1951: Fort Sill Golf Course (Fort Sill, Okla.), No. 6, 122 yards, 8-iron.

July 5, 1966: Currie Golf Course (Midland, Mich.), No. 15, 205 yards, 4-wood.

May 12, 1985: Orchard Lake Country Club, No. 16, 165 yards, 4-iron.

July 18, 1985: Keowee Key (Salem, S.C.), No. 17, 165 yards, 4-iron.

May 7, 1988: Pine Lake Country Club (West Bloomfield), No. 14, 186 yards, 7-wood.

June 10, 1988: Orchard Lake County Club, No. 16, 141 yards, 5-iron.

July 9, 1990: Walnut Creek Country Club (South Lyon), No. 13, 180 yards, 3-iron.

July 5, 2017: Dearborn Hills Golf Course (Dearborn), No. 6, 140 yards, 5-wood.