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Characters | Jim Colton

Jim Colton turned a single golf walkathon into a worldwide commitment to charity

By: Jeff Neuman

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of LINKS.

WHO: JIM COLTON, 40-year-old banking executive. Lives in Wheaton, Illinois, with his wife and three kids.

What: He originated the Hundred Hole Hike, a moveable feast of a charity event that can be undertaken to support any cause the golfer wishes. As with a bike- or walkathon, the golfer solicits pledges per hole played, often with bonuses for birdies and eagles and holes played beyond the planned 100.

Where: The first hike was at Ballyneal Golf & Hunt Club in Holyoke, Colorado, where Colton is “a very enthusiastic member,” according to the course’s designer, Tom Doak. (Doak pledged and contributed at Ballyneal, and subsequently took part in a hike with Colton in St. Andrews, Scotland.) Over a 15-day period in 2013, Colton did hikes at Pinehurst, Ballyneal, Cabot Links, and St. Andrews. Others have taken place at courses across the country and around the world.

When: As close to the summer solstice as you can manage. In that first Hundred Hole Hike in 2011, Colton hit his six-round target by 3:30 p.m., then played an extra 47 holes in the remaining five hours of daylight, for a total of 155. “At the Old Course, they didn’t want us to go out at 5:30, when it was first light, because they wanted to get the maintenance men out ahead of us,” Doak says. “So we started at 6:20, 10 minutes ahead of the first scheduled time, and caught up to the maintenance guys on the third hole. We didn’t see the group behind us until we were walking down the 13th fairway and they were leaving the 6th tee. We played that round in 2:05.”

How: Colton isn’t a runner, but by simplifying the game—shorten the swing, hit the ball forward, keep it in play, keep moving—he is able to zoom around a course while taking his usual number of strokes (he plays to a 4). “If I have a birdie putt, because I have bonuses, I might take two nanoseconds to line it up instead of one. One of our rules is you have to putt everything out and you have to keep score, so there are no shortcuts from that perspective.”

“You let go of so many things that you actually play better,” Doak recalls. “I think three of the four of us played better than our handicaps.”

The golf course doesn’t have to be closed; starters tell the other golfers that they may see a group come speeding along, and to please let them play through. “At Pinehurst No. 4, which gets a lot of play, we were there in the middle of the day and we probably played through 15 groups in 18 holes,” says Colton.“Usually when you play through people they kind of growl, but they couldn’t have been more encouraging and were cheering us on.”

Why: The first HHH was a fund-raiser for Ben Cox, a Ballyneal caddie who’d been paralyzed from the chest down in a skiing accident. “I didn’t actually know Ben before the accident,” Colton says. “But I wanted to help. I figured if I sent an email to 40 of my golf friends, people would pitch in a dollar or two a hole. For whatever reason, the event just really struck a chord with the golf community; we wound up raising more than $110,000.” 

And Colton found a satisfaction he’d never known. “I love to play golf,” he says, “but this gave me the chance to use that passion in a very positive way.” 

At HundredHoleHike.com, Colton encourages, tracks, and provides support for hikes throughout the world. In 2013, 85 golfers participated somewhere, raising more than $600,000. The goal this year is a million dollars.

“If I look at all the areas of my life—my family, career,  friendships, and faith—before and after the Ben Cox marathon, it’s just night and day,” Colton says. “And I think it’s due to, not only meeting Ben and his family, but through the success of that event, and the charity—just setting a goal for myself and achieving it. And my kids get to see that Dad’s trying to make a difference.” 

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