HISTORY
Three Things: The Moon Club February 6, 2019 By Michael Trostel, USGA

On display at the USGA Golf Museum, "The Moon Club" was used by American astronaut Alan Shepard in 1971. (USGA/John Mummert)

Here’s a trivia question. Who hit the longest shot in golf history?

Tiger Woods would be a pretty good guess. In 2002, Tiger blasted a 498-yard tee shot on the 18th hole at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. Pretty impressive, right?

Not bad, but it still lagged behind 64-year-old Mike Austin’s 516-yard effort at a senior tournament in 1974 … using a steel-shafted persimmon driver!

Finally, don’t forget about Carl Cooper, whose tee shot on the third hole of the second round of the 1992 Texas Open hit a concrete cart path and ran down a maintenance road some 787 yards (!!!) from where it started.

But Admiral Alan B. Shepard Jr. has them all beat … by a mile.  

During the Apollo 14 mission to the moon, Shepard tucked a specially-crafted club and two golf balls into his space suit. His “shot heard around the galaxy” on Feb. 6, 1971 is arguably the most famous in golf’s history.

Here are three things to know about “The Moon Club,” which is on display to the public at the USGA Golf Museum in Liberty Corner, N.J.

1. The idea came from comedian Bob Hope

In 1970, Bob Hope visited NASA headquarters in Houston to prepare for a television special that would involve the Apollo astronauts. As part of the day, he was strapped into a training device that simulated the one-sixth gravity encountered while walking on the moon.

Hope carried a golf club on nearly every occasion – including during the space simulation. Watching the entertainer closely, Shepard came to the realization that the best way to explain the effects of the Moon's gravitational pull was through the flight of a golf ball.

So Shepard asked Jack Harden, the pro at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, to craft a clubhead for this endeavor. Then, Shepard took it to the Technical Services division at NASA, where technicians discreetly added some finishing touches. The result was a Wilson Staff Dyna-Power 6-iron head attached to a collapsible aluminum and Teflon tool designed to scoop lunar rock samples. 

2. Shepard practiced in his space suit … on Earth

Most golfers like to hit a few balls before heading to the first tee. Shepard was no exception, except that his “course” was more than 225,000 miles away and his attire wasn’t exactly khakis and a polo shirt.

Once Shepard received approval from NASA, he did his best to simulate the lunar experience on Earth. Determined not to embarrass himself on the moon, Shepard put on his space suit – which weighed more than 200 pounds – and went to a course in Houston to practice in a bunker.

3. Shepard’s shot had some serious hang time

The Apollo 14 mission had been a success. Now it was time for Shepard to play some golf on the lunar surface. But the bulkiness of his suit prevented him from using both hands, so he gripped the club in just his right hand.

His first two swings yielded some explosions of moon dust, but the ball failed to sail into orbit. On his third swing, he made contact, but it floated only a short distance into a nearby crater. “A shank,” Shepard later called it.

Finally, with his fourth swing, Shepard made solid contact, famously saying the shot soared for “miles and miles and miles.” Even more impressive, the ball's time of flight – more than 30 seconds – exemplified the difference between the Earth's and the moon's gravity.

Michael Trostel is the senior content producer for the USGA. Email him at mtrostel@usga.org.

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