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Theft at Fox Den turns out to be lucky break

A brazen theft was magically transformed into an unforgettable celebration at Fox Den Country Club.

The bizarre incident began when the golf clubs of Fox Den members John Rhea and Byron Jackson were stolen on the Saturday morning before the annual Fourth of July tournament.

Both sets of clubs had been placed on a cart with the members’ names outside the pro shop. The cart was on the front row of about 40 carts lined up. Moments later, the vehicle was no where to be found.

“My first thought was that someone was trying to play a practical joke,” Rhea said. “Then it was like, ‘OK … this isn’t very funny at all.’ We had just finished breakfast in the clubhouse and the cart was gone when we came back out.”

After alerting the pro shop, assistant pro Josh Vandeventer found the cart in a parking lot near the swimming pool. Unfortunately, both sets had been stolen.

Although a surveillance camera reportedly was not functioning, there are several theories about the theft at the private club with an affluent membership.

While Fox Den general manager Dave Largent began making calls to warn other courses and alert pawn shops, the memorable morning continued.

Jackson is left-handed and could not find a suitable replacement set. Although he dropped out of the tournament, he decided to ride along with his buddies.

Rhea chose to share the clubs of long-time friend Charlie Pemberton. Sandy Sharp and Larry Wright also were in the group.

After a routine par at No. 1, Rhea asked to borrow Pemberton’s 7-iron at the 160-yard par-3 second hole. That’s when things got very interesting.

“As soon as I hit the ball, we could tell it was headed directly for the flagstick,” said Rhea, who is a vice president at SunTrust Mortgage. “Sandy yelled out, `Go in the hole, ball!’ You know what? That golf ball was very attentive and rolled ever so beautifully into the cup for a hole-in-one!”

The celebration that ensued will be talked about for years. It was a team event and the mortgage banker had the privilege of writing a `1’ on the scorecard.

It was Rhea’s fifth ace. The 62-year-old Farragut resident also made a hole-in-one at No. 13 at Fox Den; Nos. 17 and 3 at Oak Ridge Country Club, and No. 17 at Southwest Point in Kingston.

“All five aces have happened since my 50th birthday,” said Rhea, an avid golfer who plays to a 9 handicap. “This was by far the most satisfying and I will never forget the look on everyone’s face. It made things even better because Byron rode around with the group and witnessed it, too.”

A shocked Pemberton looked at Rhea after the round and said, “I have never had a hole-in-one, but at least I can say one of my clubs has!”

There was some familiarity involved. Rhea’s irons were Ping G-10 with graphite shafts. Pemberton’s are Ping G-10 with steel shafts.

The perfect swing was priceless.

There’s also a happy ending: Fox Den’s insurance will cover the theft because the members did not have possession of the clubs.

Meanwhile, Rhea will continue to play with a backup set in hopes that some more hole-in-one fireworks will occur.

Chuck Cavalaris is a long-time golf writer in Knoxville. Send questions or comments to


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