Connecting People to Places

Durham brothers play 50 days of golf in 50 states

Teddy and Jack Leinbach on Ocracoke, N.C.

Teddy and Jack Leinbach practice their sand shots on the Ocracoke beach. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Peter Vankevich

After 50 days of golf in as many states, brothers Jack and Teddy Leinbach of Durham were ready for some Ocracoke beach time.

In an amazing feat, the brothers, along with friends Colin Wilkins, 20, and Hayden Swanson, 23, accomplished their goal of playing nine holes of golf in each of the United States– along with several adventures–all while capturing it on film.

Now, Teddy, 23, will have the challenge of editing 120 hours of film into a 90-minute documentary, “50 Over,” which he hopes to have ready in March.

Both graduates of the Durham School of the Arts, they got the idea for this project around Teddy’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth this spring where he obtained a bachelor of fine arts degree with a concentration in filmmaking.

At the Ocracoke Coffee Co., Teddy and Jack Leinbach of Durham talk about their accomplishment of playing 50 rounds of golf in 50 states this summer. Photo: P. Vankevich

“We grew up playing lots of sports like basketball and pickup football, but golf became our favorite,” said Jack, 20, who is a junior at Tulane University, majoring in Latin American studies and Spanish.

“Sitting around the dinner table after graduation, I wondered how I could combine my film degree and love of golf,” Teddy said. “Also, I got a car for graduation and we came up with the ridiculous idea to produce this documentary.”

Little did he realize that the vehicle, a 91’ Dodge van, would play a significant part in this adventure.

In addition to fundraising to pay for the trip, taking on an endurance challenge and capturing the many beautiful landscapes of the country, they wanted to show how golf’s reputation as a sport for the rich and used for making business deals is not entirely accurate. Just about anyone who likes the game can play.

“There are plenty of public golf courses that charge just $5 or $10 and those were the courses we would play,” said Jack.

On a shoestring budget, they began some meticulous planning, which included finding public courses, calculating distances between courses and finding places to stay, mostly in campgrounds or with friends.

They drove to Maine and began on June 1 with the intent to finish in Hawaii on July 20–exactly 50 days. 

They quickly got ahead in the challenge–gaining some wiggle room by golfing in 10 states in five days. The first course was Sunset Ridge in Westbrook, Maine and then on to the Brookstone Park Golf Complex in Derry,  N.H. 

Things were going relatively smoothly until about halfway through when disaster struck.

While driving out of St. Louis on their way to Illinois, they heard a pop under the hood. The van started smoking and within a couple of minutes, it burst into flames.

The 91′ van on fire. Photo by Jack Leinbach

“We were able to get the camera and computer out in time, but lost our clubs and clothes,” Jack said.

Colin’s father, Logan Wilkins, hearing the bad news, offered to let them use his Toyota Prius and they were able to resume.

An important aspect of this adventure was meeting other golfers and gauging their reactions.

“A lot of people, especially young people, said they were jealous of what we were doing, and the older folks said they wish they had taken a trip like ours when they were younger,” Teddy said. “We also surprised some owners when we walked in the door because of our age.  Many a time we heard, ‘We expected you to be older!’  We loved that.”

At the more low key, family-owned courses, owners were excited and a bit confused as to why the brothers chose their course in their state.

“But after explaining what we were trying to say about the sport of golf, they understood and completely agreed with our message,” said Teddy.  A quote that they heard several times was “our course is more country than country club.”

Lake Powell National Golf Course, Az. Photo by Jack Leinbach

As they headed west and states grew larger, the challenge to make it to a course that would still be open became formidable.

“Our latest start was New Mexico, about 6 p.m., and we finished about 9 p.m. with cell phone flashlights, but we got it done,” said Teddy.

Playing in rain at Fox Hollow Golf Course in Alaska. Photo by Jack Leinbach

Leaving the Prius in Seattle, they flew to Anchorage, Alaska, and golfed in the rain at the Fox Hollow Golf Course.

A few hours later, they boarded a plane for Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu at 7:30 p.m. The next day they teed off and concluded at the Kahuku Golf Course.

Taking a victory lap so to speak, the four spent a few days surfing and, yes, playing a little more golf before returning to Seattle to drive home.

The memories of these 50 days should be life-long. The courses they played such as Winn Mountain Golf Course in Arkansas, the Weed Golf Course in California and the Shield Crest Golf Course in Oregon will never be selected for one of the majors tournaments, but that’s exactly why they were chosen.

After nearly 20,000 driving miles they were ready for their annual visit to Ocracoke, a place they have visited since they were children.

Teddy has already produced some documentaries including one in El Salvador.

There, the brothers visited their sister church, Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel, in the country’s capital, San Salvador, to chronicle the efforts to keep young people away from the rampant violence that is plaguing that country.

To follow updates on the documentary, a Facebook page has been set up.

Editor’s note: The brothers are distant relatives in the vast Leinbach diaspora.

From left, Teddy Leinbach, Jack Leinbach, Hayden Swanson and Colin Wilkins. Photo by Darby Heflin

After the van burnt up, the team switched to a Prius. From left Hayden Swanson, Jack Leinbach and Teddy Leinbach. Photo by Colin Wilkins

At the Kahuku golf course , Hawaii. Photo by Jack Leinbach

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