Just call Fran Dolfe Jr. the “ace” of Haverhill Country Club.
That’s because he’s pocketed an amazing seven holes-in-one on this venerable course with no sign of letting up at age 75.
What’s more, he’s witnessed eight others during his 50-year tours. Add it up and that makes 15 aces. He’s conquered all four par-3 holes over his time, but none have been kinder to him than the 155-yard fourth hole. That one he’s nailed four times.
It hasn’t come without a price, however. Protocol has it that you buy a round of drinks in the clubhouse after each feat. For some very good reason, every time Fran shows up at the club, all eyes and ears are glued to his whereabouts.
“Good fortune just seems to surround me,” he says with a smile. “As for the free drinks, I’ve enjoyed them when others have paid.”
No rabbit’s foot here, or any other charm for that matter. Dolfe doesn’t believe in magic, just good fate. The fact he’s got the golden touch encourages others to join his team. They have been guys like Dr. George Griffin, Bobby Hanagan Jr., Dennis Woelfel, Dan Chabot and Paul Routhier.
Dolfe is a Haverhill native and grew up in Bradford. He ran cross country at Haverhill High all four years before graduating in 1956. He served two years in the Coast Guard, graduated from Bentley College and worked as a certified public accountant while earning his master’s degree part-time from Suffolk.
He spent 28 years with the federal government, working for the Department of Labor auditing state grants before becoming director of reimbursement and audit for the Medicare program in New England.
When you can’t find Dolfe on the links, you’re bound to see him at some classical concert with Daryl, his wife of almost 42 years who is an exceptional organist. Whether it’s the Merrimack Valley Philharmonic or BSO at Tanglewood, the Dolfes are regular patrons. Two children and four grandkids are other loves of his life.
He also shares his time hiking the mountains of New Hampshire as a member of the Appalachian Mountain 4,000-Foot Club. Dolfe has peaked all 48 of these 4,000-footers, some of them multiple times, even in winter with snow shoes.
If you happen to notice someone snowshoeing at the Haverhill Country Club after a storm, it’s probably Dolfe. He says it keeps him in shape for golf. Others feel he’s surveying the links in obscurity.
“I guess there’s a subtle story for each ace I’ve shot,” he says. “My first (in 1989) was the most exciting of all.”
That one came on the 15th hole, 211 yards from the tee. He had just birdied the 13th and 14th. Moments later, with his foursome pressing him on, his ball landed in the cup with one swipe.
On most occasions, he went looking for the ball on the putting green, only to find it inside the hole. His last ace came just after lightning forced everyone to evacuate the greens. An hour’s rain delay and back came Dolfe to the fourth tee. His turn and pop! The ball went straight for the cup like some gopher caught it in mid-air and carried it home.
Two other cohorts have also managed their share with six aces each — Pat McGonagle and Dom Pallaria. The odds of hitting one, according to the Pro Golfers Association, are roughly 40,000 to 1.
A hole-in-one is a golfer’s ultimate dream and one of the hardest feats in sports, but not for Norman Manley of California. He’s done it 59 times. The longest straight-shot ace ever recorded was by Robert Mitera of Nebraska, an amazing 444 yards. Tiger Woods was 6 years old when he scored a hole-in-one.
Aces away, Dolfe is no slouch when it comes to his overall game. He’s fired a 70 round and once scored a 32 on the back nine holes at the country club You’ll find his name on some plaques around the club, especially for sweeping every par 3. As for shooting his age, that was done three years ago when he fired a 72 in the Senior Club Championships. He did it again at age 73 and once more this year at 75.
A year ago at age 74, he shot five 75s, just missing the mark by a stroke.
“I can’t really explain it,” he says of his aces. “Thousands of golfers with more superior skills than mine have never aced a hole. Wish I could take credit for it, but it’s just luck.”
Not everyone agrees. His pal John Good calls him humble.
“There’s also some skill involved,” Good says. “You don’t pot seven holes without some knowledge of the game. He tries not to be superstitious about the whole thing.”
Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.