Jackson alums make a tradition of $10,000 holes-in-one

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 ~ Updated 11:42 PM
Josh Lukefahr, left, Kandra Baker, center, and A.J. Balsman stand on the tee box at the eighth hole at Kimbeland Country Club in Jackson. The three Jackson High School alums have beaten the odds the past three years in the Jackson High School Alumni Association golf tournament, each sinking a $10,000 hole-in-one on the eighth hole. Baker upheld the tradition in this year's tournament. (Laura Simon)

Once a year the No. 8 green at Kimbeland Country Club seems to take on the feeling of a game show studio stage when the Jackson High School Alumni Association holds its annual fundraising golf tournament.

It may be not the Price is Right or Deal or No Deal, but it's not too far removed.

The green takes on a whole new meaning as golfers transform into contestants as they take a crack at the $10,000 prize for a hole-in-one.

And it would make must-see TV.

Viewers would get to see Jackson alums dazed in disbelief, dancing, jumping with excitement on the tee box or quite possibly into the greenside pond after making the par 3 -- 165 yards for ladies and 185 yards for men -- look like one of the easier holes on a Putt-Putt course.

A.J. Balsam, left, Kandra Baker, center, and Josh Lukefahr have combined to win $30,000 in the Jackson High School Alumni golf tournament the last three years. Balsam sank a $10,000 hole-in-one on No. 8 in the 2008 tournament, while Lukefahr aced the hole in 2009 and Baker in 2010. (LAURA SIMON ~l simon@semissourian.com)

Kandra Baker, a 2000 graduate of Jackson High School, became the latest alum to do some personal "fundraising" when she aced the hole June 25.

Baker kept an astounding tradition alive when her 3-wood shot struck the pin on the fly and dropped into the hole. It marked the third straight year a Jackson alum won the $10,000 hole-in-one prize on No. 8. In the past seven years, five holes-in-one have been made in the tournament.

As far as acing No. 8, Baker followed the footsteps of fellow Jackson alums A.J. Balsman and Josh Lukefahr.

Balsman was the first to turn the trick in 2008.

Did the 2007 graduate think he was starting a tradition when he fired in his first and only career hole-in-one with a 6-iron?

"To be honest, no," Balsman said with a laugh. "Just for the simple fact that I was surprised that I even did it."

Lukefahr, a 1997 graduate, followed in 2009 when he sank a 6-iron for his second career hole-in-one. He later applied the cash from his special day toward another special occasion -- his wedding just a couple of months later.

"It's crazy that it's happened three times," Lukefahr said.

Baker adhered to most of the footsteps of Lukefahr, a longtime friend, but opted not to follow his path into the pond. Lukefahr had kept a tee-box pledge of plunging into the water in the event he holed his shot.

Baker played in the morning part of the tournament with longtime friend Shana Wondel, Wondel's husband John and John's father Loy Welker, and Lukefahr heard the news when he arrived for the tournament's afternoon tee time.

"I was so excited," Lukefahr said. "Actually, the first thing I said was, 'Did you jump in the lake?' Cause when I got mine, everyone made me jump in the lake."

Baker was up for taking the money and running, not swimming.

"Everyone said, 'It's tradition, you have to jump in the lake," Baker said. "I said, 'I'm not jumping in that nasty lake.'"

Baker, who had been a member of the JV boys golf team as a sophomore, never had a hole-in-one in her previous 20 years of golfing.

She received her $10,000 check Friday afternoon from former classmate Nathan Brown, who is on the Jackson High School Foundation board and an agent for W.E. Walker-Lakenan Insurance, which wrote the insurance policy for the hole-in-one.

"It's certainly one of the hardest par 3s on the golf course," Brown said. "There's water all around, just crazy."

The tournament marked Baker's first round of golf of this year, and her first opportunity to use her new Callaway Diablo driver and 3-wood that she purchased three months earlier.

Not wanting to deposit one of her nicer balls in the pond, Baker switched to the oldest ball she could find. And with play backing up, Baker had an audience as she stepped up to the ball without a practice swing. She made solid contact -- both on the tee box and the green. The ball hit the flagstick on the fly, as Baker heard a "pop" and saw the flag move backward.

"[Shana] kind of looked at me, cause she was still standing up on the tee box, and there were some men on the tee box behind us, and they kept going, 'I think it's in! I think it's in!' And I said, 'No, it's not in. I overshot. It probably flew past the green.'"

While the man working the hole rushed from the tee box to the green to check on the shot and a woman working the ninth hole came over for a look, Baker calmly strolled to the cart and put her club away, confident that her ball was nowhere near the hole.

"When she yelled it's in, we all started screaming and jumping up and down, and the boys ran down off the tee box," Baker said. "It was a big ordeal. Somebody radioed the clubhouse. Everybody came running over. In fact, Nathan [Brown] I think was on a few holes back and he heard the commotion, and he came running over. It was all just kind of a blur. I was being introduced to people. I grabbed my cell phone and called my dad, and said, 'I just won $10,000.' It was all just kind of a crazy experience."

It was a scene Lukefahr could relate to.

"I think it's a special thing," Lukefahr said. "It's a special tournament first of all because it's our alumni and it's people that you grew up with and people you know their names and they know your name ... and to have something like that happen on that day. First of all for the money, but secondly to see your friends and their friends and neighbors, everyone congratulating you and all coming together, it's a really, really special thing.

"The money was great, but I think it was just as great to have all those people there."

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