Legends of the Green: Texan Barry Gibbons Shatters World Record

Legends of the Green: Texan Barry Gibbons Shatters World Record

Barry Gibbons spent 33 years wishing he had more time to play golf. So, when he retired from his job at IBM, the 57-year-old Gibbons took his golf dream to the extreme. He set out to play a lifetime of golf in one year.

On December 31 of 2016, at Flintrock Falls at The Hills Country Club in Lakeway, Texas, Gibbons set a Guinness World Record for most rounds walking and carrying a golf bag in a calendar year – a whopping 878 rounds, covering 15,804 holes, on 21 different golf courses.

Consider it this way: If your average golfer is lucky enough to play 40 rounds in a year, Gibbons golfed the equivalent of 20 years in just 12 months, or 20 times a year over 40 years.

Richard Lewis, a retired Dallas insurance executive, had held the previous record, walking 611 rounds in 2010 at the age of 64.

Gibbons roared past Lewis’s record on September 18, in a round with his 82-year-old father, who introduced him to the game of golf, at a course in Denver. Gibbons kept right on going, sometimes playing three or even four rounds in a day. By the time he was done, he’d dropped more than 30 pounds.

Three of Gibbons’ four grown children were on the course for the historic final day, walking and carrying clubs in solidarity with their world-record-breaking father.

Playing the course’s front nine, people in neighboring homes hollered encouragement out their windows. By the time the group reached the back nine, Gibbons and his crew had picked up many more fans who followed in golf carts or walked along with them.

They walked up the 18th green as a family.

“By this time I was laughing at the crowd forming,” Gibbons’ wife Joy would later recall on the couple’s website.

Gibbons and his family expected 20 or so people to share in their champagne toast on the final hole, but more than 100 friends and fans gathered to celebrate the end of Gibbons’ fantastical quest.

Gibbons, who splits his time living in Ridgefield, Connecticut and Austin, Texas, said he was intrigued when he learned of Lewis’ golf record, and, being recently retired himself, felt an instant connection.

He did a trial year in 2015, playing about 400 rounds, but some of those were aided by a golf cart.

“People either are envious or they think I’m nuts,” Gibbons told Golf Digest.

“I was looking for something to do, so my first thought was ‘I can do that,'” he said in a September interview with Golf.com. “The golf isn’t the hardest part. It’s the walking. My biggest expense is golf shoes – I’ve used 11 pairs.”

Gibbons also went through close to a half a dozen golf bags, which were weighed down by the extra balls he found and kept along the way.

Gibbons’ wife, who was fondly referred to at one of his regular courses as “The Golf Widow,” created their website – breakthegolfrecord.com – so fans could follow along on his journey. She included a countdown clock.

“When I installed the countdown clock on this website, it was hard to imagine ever seeing it in zero days,” Joy wrote on the website. “I have to say it looks pretty awesome to me.”

Joy, who played more than 50 rounds with her husband during his record year, also was responsible for all the paperwork needed to make his record official. If his quest seemed odd to outsiders, Joy Gibbons spoke about her husband’s love for the game that had grown over years of longing for more free time.

“I think working and traveling caused huge pent-up demand to play,” she told Golf Digest. “A good friend of ours died at age 57 last year, before he had a chance to retire and enjoy life. That was a perspective builder, and Barry has enjoyed almost every shot of working toward his goal. He appreciates the freedom to reap the benefits of all of our hard work and saving, while getting fit and challenging himself.”

Barry Gibbons couldn’t help but get fit. By the end of his quest, he’d covered an incredible 6,401 miles – 12,780,684 steps – while walking and carrying his clubs. He hit 67,840 strokes. If you measured his year in terms of 24-hour days of golfing, it would equal 112 days of golfing 24/7.

To keep costs down, most his rounds were played at The Hills in Austin and Ridgefield, where he has season passes.

Joy and Barry chronicled some of the more memorable days, including the commemorative round he played with Lewis. On the day of Arnold Palmer’s funeral, Barry Gibbons played 87 holes, one for each year in the life of the golfer known as “The King.”

There was the afternoon Barry and Joy treated the grounds crew at Flintrock Falls to a cookout lunch of burgers, dogs, and bratwurst.

“I sort of feel like a part of the crew since I’m out there every morning with them while they are doing their work, and I’m doing mine,” Barry wrote on their website. “These guys work really hard, and they keep the course in fantastic condition, so I wanted to express my appreciation.”

On one of his regular courses, Gibbons carried a bag of Milk-Bone dog biscuits for the pair of golden retrievers he’d invariably meet along the way.

He hit his first hole-in-one on November 1 at The Hills.

Miraculously, Gibbons only had one major injury scare over the course of the year when a jar of jalapeno peppers fell from the fridge and shattered. A big shard of glass sliced open Gibbons’ foot, but he simply taped it up and was out on the links a couple of hours later.

Gibbons has said he’d never attempt such a feat again, and that he planned to spend some time post-World Record relaxing in a beach chair.

But Barry and Joy don’t regret a minute of the year, saying they cherished lessons learned and friends made along the way.

“We didn’t have any idea what we were getting into, but it has been an adventure,” Joy wrote in a final post on their website. “The part we knew was the challenge. The part we never anticipated was the great people and support we have experienced. In the end, our hugely expanded ‘golf family’ is really what it is all about and what we will savor.”