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CLINE: Lilburn City Manager comes up aces

Bill Johnsa, left, and his son Patrick.

Bill Johnsa, left, and his son Patrick.

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The Georgia State Golf Association awarded Bill Johnsa a certificate commemorating 25 holes-in-one for his career.

LILBURN — Bill Johnsa gets the same reaction every time he recites the number. People are incredulous, thinking he’s pulling their leg.

A hole-in-one is a big milestone for any golfer, even a very accomplished one. Which makes Johnsa’s collection — 26 after an ace in January — so hard to fathom.

“People kind of shake their heads,” he said. “It’s kind of unbelievable. When I tell people, it’s almost like disbelief.”

Though that number is hard to believe, Johnsa has a certificate from the Georgia Golf Association to prove it. Not to mention numerous bar tabs. Since a hole-in-one is so rare, it’s tradition that the person who records one buys a round of drinks at the bar after the round. So while Johnsa’s feat is impressive, it’s hardly been lucrative.

“I can’t tell you the countless amount of drinks I’ve bought,” he said. “I’ve never won a big prize or anything (by making a hole-in-one), but I’ve paid out quite a bit at the bar.”

Johnsa lives in Flowery Branch now, but he’s a child of Gwinnett. A 1979 graduate of North Gwinnett High School, his family owns the Suwanee Lumber Company, the oldest business in that city. Johnsa grew up playing golf with his father in Lawrenceville at Windy Hill Country Club, which no longer exists but was situated across the street from where the Collins Hill Golf Club now stands.

His first ace came in 1980, and Johnsa descibes it in vivid detail — a 115-yard pitching wedge that found the bottom of the cup on hole No. 5 of the nine-hole course.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “But playing with my dad, that was the best part.”

Richard Johnsa was a skilled golfer in his own right, which only underscores the uncommon nature of his son having so many aces.

“Before passing, my dad had two holes-in-one in his life,” said Johnsa, who plays as a 5 handicap but has been as low as a 1. “I had two in one weekend. I don’t have an explanation for it.”

His good friend — Van Samples — does. He plays a lot of golf with Johnsa and has seen his buddy make 10, yes 10, holes-in-one in person.

“He’s an excellent golfer,” Samples said with a laugh, “and yet he’s pretty lucky, too.”

Johnsa has a weekly game after church on Sundays at Sugar Hill Golf Club, but his most recent ace came in January at the Providence Club. On hole No. 3, he used a 7-iron to knock it in from 162 yards. When the ball fell into the cup, that old feeling of exhiliration came back.

“You have to have confidence, and sometimes you pull it off,” he said. “You always think, ‘Is this it? Am I ever going to get another one?’”

If he doesn’t, he knows who he’d like to see get one. His dad got to see his joy at an ace, now he’d like to see his sons have that same experience. Oldest son Mitch is a student at Georgia State and 13-year-old Patrick has become “smitten with the game.”

Watching Patrick record an ace, “That would be the greatest,” Johnsa said.

Johnsa was a juvenile probation officer in Gwinnett before becoming Dawson County manager. He came back to Lilburn five years ago and is helping spearhead the city’s revitalization plans.

“Revitalization takes time, but we’re right on the verge of breaking out,’ he said of Lilburn. “Good things are ahead for Lilburn.”

Hopefully for Johnsa, just like on the golf course.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.