Duluth golfer pick up 8th hole-in-one

Duluth golfer Dick Gillen was approached on Monday by a friend who rubbed his arm, hoping for a little luck to come off. Gillen, 75, recorded his eighth career hole-in-one during the Serbian golf tournament on Saturday at Nemadji Golf Course in S...

Dick Gillen
Dick Gillen of Gary fired his eighth career hole-in-one on Sunday. (Jed Carlson /

Duluth golfer Dick Gillen was approached on Monday by a friend who rubbed his arm, hoping for a little luck to come off.

Gillen, 75, recorded his eighth career hole-in-one during the Serbian golf tournament on Saturday at Nemadji Golf Course in Superior.

Playing a golf scramble with friends Bill Minter, Denny McLean and Harley "Pinky" Gellatly, Gillen took out his 9-iron and hit his tee shot on the 113-yard North No. 9 hole. The ball landed a short distance in front of the pin and rolled right in.

"As soon as I hit it, we all said, 'Hey, that's right at the stick,' " Gillen said. "It took a little hit, rolled up and just bang, right in the hole. It was on the line from the start, just had to get there. I took it easier than everybody else there, I think."

While aces might be old hat for Gillen, they aren't for the rest of America.


According to Golf World there are 40,000 holes-in-one in the U.S. each year.

Longtime Nemadji Golf Course golf pro Mark Carlson said the North No. 9 hole is aced more than any other at Nemadji because it is the course's shortest hole and is part of its most popular course.

Still, acing it is very rare. Nemadji averages about 20 holes-in-one per year. With 60,000 rounds played each year at Nemadji, that's one for every 3,000 rounds.

"Dick has the most hole-in-ones of anyone I know at Nemadji or locally," Carlson said. "I know somebody else has more in the area, but there can't be many. I have three. My buddy has five, and I think the world record is like 39, but that's a lot of aces for anyone in this area. And he's still going strong."

In a remarkable coincidence, Pat McBride of Hoyt Lakes had his ninth career ace while playing with the North Lakes Golf Association on Monday at Ridgeview Country Club. Gillen, meanwhile, recently found out that his friend, Gerald Rychlak of Fond du Lac, also has eight holes-in-one.

"Half the time you miss the green and another time you get a hole-in-one," Gillen said. "It just happens, but you've got to get the ball started down the right path and with the right club for distance."

Wikipedia has the odds for the average golfer making a hole-in-one at 12,500 to one.

To put that in perspective, Hermantown golfer Reed Kolquist has won more than 50 local tournaments but has never had a hole-in-one (although he does point out he has two double eagles, which are much more rare).


"I had one that went in the hole off the tee at Ridgeview once about 15 or 20 years ago, but it was during practice," Kolquist said. "My first shot hit the road. My second shot went in the bunker. And my third shot went in the hole, so what's that? A five?

"It takes some skill and a lot of luck. Maybe I'll go without one forever. I don't have a problem with that, but it would be kind of fun to write down a '1' on the scorecard. Just once."

Seven of Gillen's aces have been at Nemadji, including two this year, but his longest, a 211-yarder, came at Pattison Park.

Gillen, a 1954 Duluth Denfeld graduate, was a four-sport athlete for the Hunters. He was more into softball after high school but started taking up golf about 1970.

Gillen lives in Gary and is a regular at Nemadji, where it only takes about 10-12 minutes to arrive via the Oliver Bridge. He is a 12 handicapper who didn't get his first ace until 1998, when he was 62.

Now the retired firefighter wants more.

"You've got to play at a distance you feel comfortable with and give yourself a chance to do it," Gillen said of making aces. "I hope to get a few more. There is still a few holes over there that I want to hit. I just have to keep plugging away."

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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