Did Neil Armstrong Play Golf on the Moon?

By M.L. Rose
An Earth-bound Alan Shepard prepares to putt in 1995.
An Earth-bound Alan Shepard prepares to putt in 1995.

Many of NASA’s early astronauts had an affinity for golf. Twelve of those men eventually walked on the moon, which became the biggest sand trap in the solar system in 1971, when one of those astronauts secured his place in history as golf's first lunar player.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong was a U.S. Navy pilot, an engineer and a test pilot before first flying into space on Gemini VIII in 1966. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong’s moonwalk lasted for 2 1/2 hours -- less time than it takes to play an 18-hole round of golf -- but he didn’t hit any golf balls during his mission.

On Earth, however, Armstrong does play golf. According to an article in the Telegraph, a British newspaper, an Ohio barber who used to cut Armstrong’s hair regularly says he didn’t talk to Armstrong about his outer space exploits. "The only thing I talked to Neil about was golf," barber Marx Sizemore said. Armstrong spent much of the 25th anniversary of his moon landing playing golf with the fellow directors of an energy company, according to the Telegraph.

Alan Shepard

Like Armstrong, Alan Shepard was first a U.S. Navy pilot and then a test pilot. He became the first American to fly in space on May 5, 1961, making a brief sub-orbital flight. He was then grounded for medical reasons, but he returned to the astronaut corps in time to command Apollo 14 in 1971. He spent more than nine hours walking on the moon, plenty of time to hit a few golf balls.

Planning the Shots

Before Shepard’s Apollo flight, the first American in space sought permission to become the first extraterrestrial golfer. In an interview, Shepard said his idea was rejected as “far too frivolous.” But he wore down his opposition and NASA permitted him to bring three golf balls and a club made from the handle of a sample collector, which was designed to lift rocks from the moon’s surface. Shepard had golf pro Jack Harden replace the scoop on the end of the handle with a 6-iron club head. Shepard said he practiced his moon swings prior to launch while wearing a fully pressurized space suit.

Shepard’s Bunker Shot

Near the end of his lunar mission, Shepard stepped in front of the live television camera, revealed his golf equipment and announced, “I’m going to try a little sand trap shot here.” The bulky space suit forced him to swing one-handed, and his first effort was a mis-hit. “Even though I tried to keep my head down on the first swing, I really didn’t,” Shepard said later. “And I hit a shank.” He took no chances with his final ball, improving the lie after he dropped it on the surface. “I figured nobody was going to quote the Rules of Golf to me from a quarter million miles away,” Shepard told an interviewer. He made solid contact and announced that his shot traveled “miles and miles and miles.”

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