GREENSBORO, GEORGIA | This couldn’t really be happening, could it? It took a few seconds to register because my focus was on the screen of my iPhone, snapping a sequence of photos as Dottie Farmer hit on the 96-yard uphill par-3 11th hole at The Landing at Reynolds Lake Oconee. But the gaze quickly redirected to that white ball sailing through a blue December sky heading straight for the flag. I mean, right at it.
The bottom of the pin wasn’t visible, tucked as it was in a hollow of green behind a bunker. The ball came down right at the base of the flagstick and disappeared behind the curve of dormant bermudagrass hiding the putting surface. It didn’t reappear on the sliver of visible green behind the flag, so …
Seriously, nobody could be this lucky. Let me clarify that: Dottie Farmer could be that lucky. But certainly not the golf writer who came to see the 72-year-old retired middle school teacher from Delaware who’d already recorded her 20th and 21st aces two days apart in 2021. I mean, according to the National Hole-In-One Registry, the odds of making an ace are 12,500 to 1. Doing it on one of four opportunities for a reporter who showed up to write about you doing it? Hitting the Powerball lotto seems about as likely.
Was this No. 22 for Farmer? Her husband, Rich, and published “golfaholic” Paul Laubach raced in their cart up the hill to investigate while Dottie posed for a portrait as I kicked myself for shooting still photos instead of video. Alas, Dottie’s ball was found 4 feet above the hole; her ballmark a couple feet below it. It had to have rolled within an inch or two of the cup from point A to point B.
Dottie just shrugged and smiled at another recycled golf ball eluding a spot in her crowded curio case. They can’t all go in despite her not-so-secret formula.
“I just aim at the flag,” she said. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”
Dottie Hopkins grew up on the largest dairy farm in Delaware, the fifth of 10 children. There were daily chores to be done at Green Acres Farm. “I didn’t know golf existed,” she said. She played French horn in her high school band, and after graduating attended an all-star camp with other band members across the state. One of them was a trombone player from William Penn High named Richard Farmer, who was walking back from dinner one night that week and told the guys he was with that he’d met a girl there he liked named Dottie.
“That’s my sister!” said Walter Hopkins.
“He liked to play and I didn’t like being left alone. So he could either quit or teach me to play.” – Dottie Farmer
Rich and Dottie met again a few weeks later when they matriculated at the University of Delaware and eventually started dating. They got married just before graduation and Rich shipped out to basic training for the Army.
When Rich got stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas, he bought Dottie a starter set of golf clubs. It wasn’t quite Homer Simpson giving Marge a bowling ball, but it was close.
“He liked to play and I didn’t like being left alone,” Dottie said. “So he could either quit or teach me to play. We made a pact: he wouldn’t yell at me when I missed a shot and I wouldn’t play slow.”
Fifty-one years later, the newlyweds’ pact still stands. As Dottie says, “I got the bug” with a challenging game that appealed to her competitive spirit. Golf became an obsession for the two school teachers who never had kids of their own. They played regularly throughout their decades in education in Delaware (Dottie taught home economics for 30 years while Rich taught social studies and English before finishing his career as principal at his alma mater).
Dottie did better than keep up. She won the women’s club championship at Cavaliers Country Club a record 15 times – so often that when the club shuttered in 2009 that they just gave her the wooden boards that hung in the clubhouse to hang in her garage. She was the Delaware Senior Women’s champion five times. She competed in 10 USGA championships, including four U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs where she advanced once to match play.
She also partnered once in a pro-am at Indian Wells with Pat Boone, who every time he hit a good shot would sing to her.
“Golf has brought me many wonderful experiences,” she said.
Twelve-and-a-half years ago, the Farmers retired and were set on moving to some place where they could play golf all the time. They seriously considered Southern Pines, North Carolina, where their personal favorite course, Mid Pines, is located. But it still gets too cold there, and they had no such cons when they found Reynolds Lake Oconee in Georgia. They play an average of 600 to 650 rounds between them annually – more when Rich isn’t getting his knees replaced.
“I play any day that ends in ‘Y,’” Dottie said of her golf routine that only succumbs to illness or the foulest weather. “I don’t like to start a round in the rain.”
Five times she’s shot her age or better – with rounds of 65, 68, 69, 70 and most recently a 72 this fall.
But it’s the aces that stand out. Twenty-one of them spanning 42 years and four states, including four different years with two holes-in-one – 1994, 2011, 2014 and 2021. That most recent pair at Reynolds last year came May 4 (109-yard, third hole at the Preserve using an 8-iron) and May 6 (116-yard 13th hole at the Creek Club using a hybrid). It made up for the disappointment of her ball tapping softly dead center on a raised COVID cup on the National course to deny her marking her 20th in 2020.
“But I got 20 and 21 in 2021,” she said with a smile at the symmetry. That second one on the Creek “went straight into the hole on the fly,” she said.
Her first ace came on Sept. 16, 1979, using a 3-wood on a dewy morning in the club championship of what was then called Three Little Bakers Country Club & Dinner Theater in New Castle, Delaware. She didn’t see her ball go into the downhill, 160-yard 12th hole, “but it felt good.”
Her second came five years later in 1984 on the 123-yard 14th hole (6-iron) at Garrisons Lake Golf Club in Smyrna, Delaware, during a tournament for prep sports coaches. She got so excited she leapt into the arms of another coach with a bad back. Unfortunately, it didn’t come on the hole where they were giving away a Datsun 280ZX for an ace, but since she also got closest to the pin on that hole “they let me drive it for the weekend.”
It started to become a routine at Cavaliers, where from 1989 to 2006 Farmer collected eight aces on all four of the course’s par-3s including once from the men’s 15th tee. Her 11th and final ace in Delaware came on June 25, 2008, on the 108-yard second hole at Newark Country Club during the Delaware Amateur.
Despite their frequent couples rounds together, Rich has missed 14 of Dottie’s aces including almost every 1 in Delaware.
“I’d tell people he was my black cat,” Dottie said.
“I’d tell people I’m not buying any drinks because she’s making them up,” said Rich (who incidentally has as an enviable six aces of his own).
But Dottie’s always had plenty of witnesses and they keep piling up – with friends presenting her engraved pewter Jefferson cups to commemorate most of them before she started getting ornate wooden boxes to display them in. (All the scorecards are simply clumped together with a paper clip.)
Farmer collected one in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2014 at the Legacy at Greystone (eighth, 126 yards, 6-iron) and another in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2017 at Kiskiack Golf Club (second, 120 yards, 7-iron).
The rest have come on four of the six courses at Reynolds Lake Oconee, including four of the five par-3s at the Creek and one each at the Landing (the same hole she nearly aced again in front of me), Oconee and Preserve. She’s only missing 1s at the National (where the COVID cup thwarted her) and Great Waters.
They haven’t all been perfect – “Some of them were skanky and all of the sudden they went in the hole,” she said – but as the saying goes, they don’t draw pictures on the scorecard and a 1 speaks for itself. Despite research, they’ve been unable to determine whether 21 aces are a record for a female amateur. A Texas pro named Mancil Davis made 51 – generally considered a world record. Masters champ Art Wall had 45. Some people, like Farmer, just seem to have a knack for it.
What Dottie does know is she’s spent thousands of dollars on drinks through the years – one of the reasons she maintains her productive Mary Kay Cosmetics business to help cover the costs. She’s always happy to do it.
“You never know when it will be your last one,” she said.
Having caught a glimpse of the Dottie Farmer magic, I wouldn’t bet against her buying more rounds for the house.
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