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Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

Beating the backyard blues

By Shelley Grieshop

Alvin May unknots several strings of golf balls that must be measured for length. . .

ST. HENRY - Who would have thought that a couple of golf balls and some PVC pipes could make one of the most popular lawn games today?
Yep, it's hillbilly golf. Also called ladder golf or bolo toss, it's an addicting game found often at parties, reunions and festivals, wherever golf ball swinging athletes tend to congregate.
To play, participants toss two golf balls - attached by a rope - toward a ladder-like fixture, in an attempt to wrap them around one of three rungs for points.
Although it appears simple, creating a game set takes a lot more than slapping a few pieces together, says Alvin May, who is known in these parts as a hillbilly golf expert.
"People just don't realize what kind of work goes into these," says the St. Henry resident.
May thought about creating a patent for his work until he discovered it would cost about $4,000 just to start the paperwork.
The workshop behind May's house is filled with stacks of 3/4-inch PVC pipes and joint pieces, hardy rope and several homemade tools used to kick out 25 sets at a time if he's feeling ambitious. He's been making the sets for about five years now, selling them for $40 each, he says.
"Years ago, cowboys used to throw snakes on fence rows as a sport. That's probably how the game got started," says May, who retired from CW Service in Coldwater and previously worked 23 years at Crown Equipment Corp., New Bremen.
Although there are similar game sets available on the Internet and in other parts of the country, May claims it was he who gave "hillbilly golf" its name. Here's his story:
"We were at the 'coon trials at the Kenton fairgrounds and I brought some games along to sell, but I didn't know what to call them. As we walked down the midway, I saw this guy selling these beer cans on a string - hillbilly wind chimes is what he called 'em. Shirley (his wife) and I thought, 'That's it. Hillbilly golf.' "
Attaching the golf balls to each end of the 18-inch rope is the trickiest, he says. After he drills a hole in the balls he countersets the rope's knots inside each, then hangs them across a wooden rack to size them up. Each set must be of equal length, he adds.
May finds golf balls of all colors at garage sales, on eBay and other places on the Internet, "wherever I can find the best deal," he says. Stakes to drive the pipes into the ground are included in each set, as well as a long, thin sturdy canvas bag to easily store the game in a car trunk or garage.
"Edna Stout, a friend of ours, has an industrial sewing machine and she makes the bags for me," May says.
He's gotten requests for the game from as far away as Florida and California. Last year, he cut more than a mile of tubing and 1,000 feet of rope.
May says he doesn't get tired of playing the game, tossing a couple of rounds here and there as he makes his way from the house to the workshop and back. He says the throwing action is easier on his back than other games like bean bags, which require much more room to store.
May is apparently not the only one who favors the game over others. His wife, who acts as his sales rep., keeps busy with phone orders this time of year, he adds.
"All kinds of people buy them from those living in million dollar homes on down. It's a good family game," he says.
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