Ed Irvine's goal is to make 20 holes-in-one.

Ed Irvine's goal is to make 20 holes-in-one.

The octogenarian golfer would only be one swing away, he insists, if it weren't for the reckless placement of the flag stick on the fifth hole at Laurel Hill Golf Course in Gold Hill.

"About six months ago, the guy cutting the greens put the flag in crooked," says Irvine, 85, who lives near Rogue River. "It was leaning toward the tee box. I hit one that I do believe hit the flag and bounced back one inch from the hole. The ball didn't go in. I've been cussin' that guy ever since."

He chuckles as he tells the story. When you have 18 holes-in-one, it's easier to laugh off the near misses.

Most of Irvine's aces have come on par-3 courses. His most recent one was six years ago on his birthday, May 17. He used a 5-iron on the 143-yard hole at Laurel Hill.

The 12 holes-in-one before that came at Red Mountain Golf Course in Grants Pass.

Before that, there was another at Laurel Hill, two at Illinois Valley in Cave Junction and two in Kenosha, Wis., where he lived before moving to the Rogue Valley.

Irvine has used the same swing for eons. It's short and compact because fewer moving parts mean fewer chances to get the club off line.

His swing was described in a 2002 Mail Tribune article:

"It's like a finger poke to the chest: short, punchy, gets your attention. Some people take bigger backswings with their forks and are only slightly more accurate. Just when the backswing seems to be gaining steam, it reaches its vertex about shoulder height and heads the other direction. It's a Type A swing in a Type B game."

That description holds today.

"Nothing has changed," says Irvine, "except my driving distance, I'm sure, is getting shorter all the time."

Irvine took up golf in 1965. His son-in-law gave him a lesson, and Irvine turned around and defeated him the first time they went out.

Irvine lived much of his life in Kenosha, retiring as a machinist in 1984. He and his wife, Flo, to whom he's been married 66 years, moved to the Rogue Valley in 1987.

They formed a formidable duo in mixed events — she also has a hole-in-one to her credit — but failing eyesight has kept her off the course in recent years.

Her husband still plays most days, she says.

"He gets around better than people 20 and 30 years younger than him," says Flo. "He's more active. If someone hits one toward the river or something, he takes off running to retrieve the ball for them."

Another playing partner of Irvine's is no slouch in the ace department.

Stan Swartz, 76, of Rogue River, has 16 holes-in-one. Nine were at Red Mountain and seven at Laurel Hill.

"Me and Ed, boy, we teamed up at Red Mountain," says Swartz, whose health has kept him from playing in recent months.

Irvine and Swartz were asked not to sign up early for tournaments, says Swartz, even though there was a discount for doing so. Fellow golfers, he says, balked at entering if they knew the two were in an event as a team.

"They saved us a spot," says Swartz, "but Ed always wanted to sign up early."

"Ed was just unbelievable," he adds. "He was the best chipper. If we ever did miss a green, it didn't matter. He was something special."

One of Swartz's memorable aces came when he played with the grandson of a buddy. The kid put one about three inches from the hole on No. 4 at Laurel Hill, but it was just off to the right.

"I said, 'It's a good thing you left me some room,'" recalls Swartz, "and then I put it right in the hole."

Swartz's most recent hole-in-one came on the second hole at Laurel Hill.

His goal was to get to 18 aces, not because that's the number Irvine has, but because it seems an appropriate number.

"There are 18 holes, you have 18 holes-in-one," he says.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com