The continuing legacy of the Hinkle tree

by Kimberly Schoenberger
The 13th hole at Eagle Bend Golf Club
Hole 13, Eagle Bend Golf Club. — Photo courtesy Eagle Bend Golf Club.

During the early rounds of the 1979 U.S. Open, PGA professional Lon Hinkle made a discovery that he was certain would grant him an advantage over his opponents. That discovery? A way to shortcut the par-5 dogleg on the eighth hole. See, Hinkle had found that he could leapfrog his way to the green on the eighth by cutting through a large gap in the trees and using the fairway on the 17th hole. Hinkle ended up managing a birdie on the hole and going on to tie for the lead in the tournament.

The day following these events, players came out to discover that a 25-foot tall Black Hills spruce tree had been planted that morning at 5:30 a.m. by the USGA, directly in the way of Hinkle’s shortcut. Needless to say, it made the news.

Hinkle’s conniving methods may have bumped him to the top spot in the early rounds of the tournament, but he later went on to drop substantially in the rankings and Hale Irwin took the title. However, the Hinkle tree remained and is still standing.

At Eagle Bend Golf Club in Bigfork, Montana, where Hinkle has been a member since 2001, the antics continue.

“Lon is still up to his old tricks at Eagle Bend,” said Jim Fagan II of Eagle Bend Golf Club. “Our number one hole is a dogleg right. We have tall pines and birch preventing the shortcut drive to the green; however, Lon has found a ten-foot hole about 40 feet up, 180 yards out, between two very tall birch trees. Many try, and some even make the shot.”

What a way to start a round.

Hinkle is an active member at Eagle Bend and currently holds the course record at 62.

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