Golf On Mt. Everest? One USGA
Robert Vaughn Hits Three Balls
At Summit, Donates Makeshift 4-Iron To USGA Museum
April 24, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Somewhere amongst the glacial ice and
rocks that form the world's highest mountain peak lie
three golf balls. Each were struck in rarified air, 29,035
feet above sea level with a makeshift 4-iron last May as
part of one man's dream to reach the summit of Mount
Everest. It's a feat that fewer than 2,500 individuals
have accomplished since and navigated the terrain 55 years
, a 52-year-old oil and gas executive
from , had always thought about ascending the world's
tallest peak since he first began climbing mountains in the
early 1980s. It started in '83 when he reached the
summit of in (higher than 17,500 feet) and Denali/
in (18,850 feet).
The golf aspect came as an
afterthought. In fact, never planned on carrying a club
with him on the 10-week odyssey to last spring. But when
friend presented him with a special club a few days before
the 10,000-plus mile trip, stuck it in his luggage,
purchased a sleeve of balls at the airport and forged ahead
with a plan to hit the balls if he reached the summit.
And a few months after returning home
from the successful excursion, the club made its way from
to the in , where it will be displayed when the Museum
reopens on June 3. Eventually, the 4-iron will join the
Space Shuttle putter and
6-iron "Moon Club" as part of a unique exhibit
within the for Golf History. hit two golf balls on the moon
with the 6-iron as part of the Apollo 14 expedition in
1971. Meanwhile, astronaut was presented his putter by NASA
trainer on the Space Shuttle Discovery's mission in
October 2000. Those implements were donated to the USGA as
"We are thrilled to add this
special club to the world-class collection of the , for it
helps us tell the story of one of the most unique aspects
of the game," said , the
director of the Museum and Archives. "Like the clubs
that and used in space, 's club shows us that golfers
are so passionate about the sport that they find ways to
take it with them wherever they might be - even in the most
extreme environment on top of the world."
|USGA Member Robert Vaughn scaled
Mt. Everest in May 2007. (Photo courtesy of Robert
, who has been a USGA Member since
1997, did have some reservations about carrying a heavy
club in his backpack. The journey from Base Camp in to the
summit of takes six weeks. Climbers have to stop and get
acclimated to the altitude along the way and some never
reach the top. 's first attempt was aborted when his
feet got too cold.
Fortunately, his second try went off
without a hitch. The 11-hour journey from Camp 4 (26,000
feet) to the top ended at on May 18, where his group was
treated to a gorgeous morning with temperatures hovering at
minus-18 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of all his gear, could
not make a full swing, but despite breathing heavily from
the dearth of oxygen at that altitude, he managed to tee up
the golf balls, hitting two toward and the third in the
direction of .
"The air is so thin up
there," said , a 10.6 handicapper who plays out of
Brook Hollow Golf Club in . "I was amazed how fast the
ball came off the clubface. Who knows how far they went.
The two I hit over toward had about a 10,000-foot
The club actually came from an old set
of Farmer's wife. also purchased a grip and a ball
retriever, which would be used for the shaft. A local club
fitter then assembled the club. left with the club on March
29 and returned June 4.
"I just put it in my backpack and
forgot about the [extra] weight," said .
The climb itself, however, is the true
challenge. To prepare for the trip, climbed on the
Argentina/Chile border in January of 2007. At 22,834 feet,
is the tallest peak in the Western and Southern
"It reinforced if I really wanted
to go to Everest or not," said .
Having endured that test, was ready to
tackle the big one. With help from expedition leader and
Tasha, tackled each step with aplomb. One climb featured a
3,000-foot frozen waterfall known as , which described as
walking through a busy downtown area while pieces of
buildings are falling off. Lengthy stops are made along the
way. Base Camp stands at 17,500 feet. Camp 1 is 19,000
feet, Camp 2 is 21,000 feet, Camp 3 stands at 23,000 feet
and Camp 4 is 26,000 feet. Along the way, filed daily
that are featured in an online diary at exploradus.com.
"To me it was almost like an
incredible vacation," said . "This was a
childhood dream. It's just always seemed like that it
was just over the horizon or just out of my grasp, so I
never really took the first step toward actually trying it.
My goal wasn't really to summit. My goal was to have
fun and do the best I could on a minute-to-minute,
day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis.
"It's a lot like playing a
competitive round of golf. You just focus on one shot at a
time and you can't think about the bad things that have
happened to you in the past or what might happen to you on
the next hole. You just have to have fun and do the best
you can right there and then."
While it took weeks to ascend the
mountain, only needed a few days to get back to Base Camp.
In fact, he dropped 10,000 feet in two days.
"When I first got to Base Camp in
early April, I could hardly move around," he said.
"And when I came off the summit back down to Base Camp
at 17,500 [feet], it felt like I was on the beach.
is an amazing thing."
Such daredevil acts are hardly new for
, who in 1998-99 competed on the World Cup circuit as part
of the skeleton national team. Skeleton is an Olympic sport
that is similar to
- it is staged on the same ice track - but instead of lying
on your back feet first, competitors lay face first on a
special single-rider sled. For the 2002 Winter Olympics in
Salt Lake City, Vaughn served as the team leader for the
three-man, two-woman squad that took home two gold medals
and a silver. Prior to that, completed eight marathons and
finished the Hawaiian
Triathlon in 1989.
Later this summer, after the
reopening, is planning on taking his family - wife,
daughter and son - on a trek up , the tallest peak on the
"That's pretty much a
walk-up," said . "It's still 19,000 feet. It
will be a good workout."
Without swinging a club.
is a USGA staff
writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at