What Is The Only Sport To Ever Be Played On The Moon?

Once humanity set foot on the lunar surface, it was just a matter of time before the newness wore off and astronauts got tired of taking readings and picking up rocks. They needed ways to unwind, and astronaut Alan Shepard had just the idea. He decided to bring one of his favorite Earth hobbies — golf — to the moon.

Shepard packed a six-iron into the Apollo 14 capsule (or at least the head of one) and broke it out so he could take a few cuts and hit some balls with less gravity to inhibit his shots than any golfer had ever encountered before. His swings on the lunar driving range — captured on camera and broadcast around the world — made golf the first and only sport so far to ever make it to the Moon, per CBS News. As Astronomy points out, Shepard's swings are almost inarguably the most famous golf swings ever taken.

Shepard's shots

How far was Shepard able to hit the golf balls, given he was dealing with one-sixth of the gravity (and no air) that everyday Earth golfers face? Shepard said that his second shot specifically traveled for "miles and miles." That was nowhere near the case, though in fairness, Shepard had a lot working against him as far as getting an impressive shot off is concerned. According to Space, it was later determined that his first shot traveled around 24 yards. Shepard got a hold of the second one, which he launched 40 yards. However, the average distance for a male golfer Shepard's age — he was 48 at the time — is 156 yards, per Out Of Bounds Golf.

However, that average would be using modern clubs, which Shepard wasn't. In fact, he wasn't even using a real club at all. Instead, he was using the custom-built head of a six-iron attached to a sample collecting device. Making matters more difficult, Shepard had to take his swings while wearing a bulky, Apollo-era space suit, which, while certainly great at protecting the astronaut inside, were not known for allowing a large range of motion; Shepard was only able to take his swings using one arm. (NASA's video of the event is posted on YouTube.)

What happened to Shepard's makeshift club?

During the Apollo program's trips to the moon, it was a common practice to simply leave equipment on the lunar surface. According to Royal Museums Greenwich, this was partly as a reminder that humans had set foot on the moon, but it also served the practical purpose of making more room on board the spacecraft for rock samples collected during the mission. Fortunately, one of the items that made it back inside the landing module was Shepard's collection device/six-iron.

According to Space.com, the makeshift club remained in Shepard's possession for a few years before he donated it to the United States Golf Association Museum in 1974. Shepard decided the museum in Liberty Corner, New Jersey would be a good home for his celebrated club after actor and singer Bing Crosby — who was friendly with Shepard, as well as a USGA committee member at the time — wrote him a letter pitching him the idea of storing it there.

USGA historian Victoria Nenno told Space that the club is one of the most popular pieces in the museum's collection. "The Apollo program represented national pride and hope for the future. The artifact has a lot of those great feelings attached to it; the look of it is unusual and interesting compared to other golf equipment," she said.