Since ancient times, humans have looked up to the night sky and asked profound questions about, well, everything. Where did the universe begin? When will it end? Is it infinite? Are we alone? What does it all mean?
Sure, these are important questions. But heck, we’re golfers. People of culture. Some of us look to the night sky and ask the questions that really matter. For example…
How Many Golf Balls are on the Moon?
We don’t have the answer to life, the universe, and everything – but we do have the answer to this. There are two golf balls on the moon. They were taken there by Alan Shepard in 1971, during the Apollo 14 mission.
Shepard was the first American into space, and the fifth person to ever walk on the moon… but most impressively, he was the first (and only) person to ever play golf outside of the earth’s atmosphere!
Apparently, Shepard smuggled the head of a 6-iron, as well as two golf balls, onboard the ship. Then, when he was out on the moon’s surface collecting rocks samples, he attached the clubhead to the handle of a sample collector. As seen in this official transcript of the mission, Shepard then said…
“Houston, while you’re looking that up, you might recognize what I have in my hand is the handle for the contingency sample return; it just so happens to have a genuine six iron on the bottom of it. In my left hand, I have a little white pellet that’s familiar to millions of Americans.”
Shepard goes on to explain that, due to the stiffness of the spacesuit, he’ll have to swing with just one hand. He plays his shot…
“You got more dirt than ball that time.” Says Edgar Mitchell, one of the other astronauts. Shepard tries again.
“That looked like a slice to me, Al.”
Not looking good for the old scorecard. On the third swing, however, the club connects, and the ball flies forward on a low trajectory. Shepard then drops a second ball, and after hitting yet another duff, he gets it up and away.
The two golf balls were left behind, and are still up there to this day. The 6-iron club head, however, was brought home by Shepard, and is now on display at the US Golf Association Hall of Fame in New Jersey.
What’s even crazier, is that the whole thing was televised, in color, for the enjoyment of golf fans around the world. Here’s the official footage from NASA:
How Far Did the Golf Ball Hit on the Moon Go?
“Miles and miles and miles…” Says Shepard. Of course, everyone knows this to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek exaggeration from the infamously irreverent Alan Shepard. But how far did his shots really go?
A couple of months ago, in order to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 14 mission, imaging specialist Andy Saunders teamed up with the USGA to find the answer to this very question.
Saunders managed to digitally enhance six archival images from the mission, and then stitch them together to a single, high-quality panorama.
Image Source: BBC Sport
Using this image, Saunders was able to work out the distance the two balls traveled. He concluded that ball one traveled 24 yards, and ball two traveled 40 yards.
Not bad! Especially when you consider playing off the moon’s surface is akin to playing out of a bunker. As Saunders himself puts it, “the moon is effectively one giant, unraked, rock-strewn bunker.”
There’s also less gravity to pull the clubhead down, so he’d have generated far less clubhead speed than normal. Not to mention he was hitting with one hand, with a makeshift club, while fully suited, with a helmet and gloves. Theoretically, since there’s no air resistance and a sixth of Earth’s gravity, a good golfer would in fact be able to hit a golf ball ‘miles and miles and miles’ on the moon – but for as long as we have to wear space suits, that probably won’t happen.
Golf is pretty tough. But playing golf on the moon? That’s a whole different ball game.
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Nick Lomas is the founder of GolfSpan, an avid golfer, not quite a pro but has over 15-years of experience playing and coaching golfers from all over the world. His mission is to bring the golfing community a better experience then it comes to choosing the right golf gear, and finding the right set up for your game.