HARMONY — Ralph Schmeling never considered himself an avid golfer.
Schmeling, 76, of Cranberry Township spent more than 40 years in the insurance business. He's worked in Milwaukee, Minnesota and North Dakota.
He came to Butler County in 2007, transfered here to open a regional insurance office involving four states.
“The only time I'd ever play golf was during insurance company outings,” Schmeling said. “I'd rent a set of clubs and go play.”
Schmeling never bought a set of golf clubs until he was 58. Since retiring a number of years ago, he's picked up two part-time jobs in the sport.
“I really enjoy the game and I wanted to be around the game,” he said.
But Schmeling never truly thrived at the game — until June 15 while playing a round of golf at Strawberry Ridge. He's been working there part-time as a starter/ranger for five years.
Schmeling scored his first career hole-in-one on the 164-yard, par-three No. 5 hole, using a driver. The hole plays uphill.
“I couldn't reach the green with an iron, not hitting uphill,” Schmeling said. “I saw the ball hit the crest of the hill and roll on the green.
“My first thought was that it barely rolled off the other side, that I could chip back on, two-putt and get a four for the hole. Then I saw the ball sticking out of the hole and I couldn't believe it.”
Schmeling hade no witnesses as he was playing alone.
“Ralph is part of our Strawberry Ridge family,” course owner Tim McNulty said. “He's always trying to offer ideas and suggestions.
“Having one of our employees get a hole-in-one ... It's fun.”
As an employee, Schmeling is permitted a free round of golf each week at Strawberry Ridge. He used to play that round with Bob Kniess, another part-time starter at the course, but Kniess retired this year.
Now Schmeling plays his round with a friend or two, or by himself.
“That's the extent of my golf,” he said.
On this day, that was enough.
“You never know when it might happen,” McNulty said of scoring an ace. “It takes a good shot and you need to get that old dust of luck.”
Schmeling wound up playing nine holes and carding a 37. He birdied No. 9 along with scoring the ace.
“It was the best round of golf of my life,” Schmeling said. “I was hitting all of my clubs. My entire game just came together.”
Schmeling spends his winters in Fort Myers, Fla., working in the cart barn at a golf course there from December through March. He was only playing his third round of golf since returning to Cranberry this year.
Schmeling's ace was the third one at Strawberry Ridge this spring. Steve Vaverka scored a hole-in-one on the No. 9 hole May 7 and Canon Klein did likewise on the same hole June 7.