Critters Love a Good Golf Course
Wile E. Coyote and several of his kith and kin have recently staked out spectator positions on Sandhills golf courses. They obviously want to watch those two-legged critters with funny sticks hit little white things into holes from which these vise-jawed omnivores extract eatable varmints.
Florence Gilkeson's report in The Pilot last Wednesday noted sightings of canis latrans on Pinehurst Courses No. 5 and No. 6, plus both Pinewild courses.
Since Road Runner was not available to trick Wile E. Coyote into chewing on exploding golf balls or walking into bunkers with quicksand, the local gendarmes came to the rescue by chasing Wile E. and his friends back into the woods.
Of course, one must be wary of any creature on a golf course such as a coyote, fox, raccoon, beaver, and even an unleashed dog if there is any sign of rabies. But I'd be more concerned with water moccasins than coyotes on our golf courses.
There have been countless stories of animals, reptiles and birds on golf courses. After all, the game of golf is over 500 years old, and it has always been played on what was once the habitat for wild animals. Every creature imaginable from the aardvark to the zebra has crossed a fairway at some time or other in recent centuries.
Big and little birds get in the way of golfers who have inadvertently killed some of our fine feathered friends in mid air with golf shots. Golf rule 19 states that if a bird or other flying object is struck by a golf ball in play, the ball must be played from where it comes to rest. So far no one has reported striking a UFO during a round of golf.
But some birds, such as sea gulls, hawks, big crows and the like, have swooped down and flown off with golf balls lying in fairways. Rule 18-1 covers just such a situation. It says, "If a ball at rest is moved by an outside agency, there is no penalty and the ball must be replaced."
I was covering the Honda Classic at the TPC at Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla., one day about 25 years ago when a sea gull flew off with Brad Faxon's ball that was lying in the middle of the first fairway after his opening tee shot. The bird went about 50 feet up and 500 feet out over a canal before it realized the ball was not a nice juicy bird's egg to have for lunch. So the gull let go and Faxon's ball splashed to the bottom of the canal.
Faxon was allowed by rule to replace the original ball with another golf ball.
Back then, Vince Scully, who has been the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting voice since 1950, came down to Coral Springs from the nearby Vero Beach Dodgertown training camp to do the NBC telecast of the Honda Classic every March.
During one Saturday third-round telecast, an NBC camera crew zeroed in on a 7-foot alligator sunning itself on the bank of a water hazard at Eagle Trace. Scully took one look at the gator on his TV monitor and said, "Well, what do you know. The big guy ate his shirt."
Many years ago, a short-tempered golfer became so upset by a squawking Canadian goose on the Congressional Golf Course in Bethesda, Md., that he whacked the poor creature to death with his 8-iron. This happened shortly after Canadian geese were placed on the endangered species list. The golfer was fined thousands of dollars for "gooseicide."
My favorite golf venue is the Lahinch Golf Club Old Course situated on the west coast of Ireland. More than once I had to wait on the ninth, 10th or 14th tee while two or three goats took their time leaving the teeing ground.
The original Lahinch course, opened in 1892, was designed by Old Tom Morris on beautiful dunes land overlooking the North Atlantic Ocean. This property was and still is the grazing ground for a herd of goats. A goat is prominent in the Lahinch GC logo.
For decades, the goats of Lahinch were known as the local weather forecasters. They would stroll down to the clubhouse and get up under the roof of the porch whenever foul weather was on its way. Then, sure enough, a wild storm would roll in off the North Atlantic within an hour or so.
Nowadays, those goats are confined to an area some distance from the clubhouse where they seek shelter up against the leeward side of the big dunes.
Tom Sieckmann, a native of Nebraska who played foreign golf tours for a few years before qualifying for our PGA Tour, had one of the most unusual, creepy-crawly experiences that I ever heard. He turned pro in 1977 after graduating from Oklahoma State and had his best year in 1981 when he won the Brazil, Philippine and Thailand Opens.
Sieckmann said he had a comfortable lead in the Thailand Open as he walked to the 18th tee of the final round. This 72nd hole was a long and straight par-5 ending at the clubhouse. There was a big grandstand set behind the green with an awning protecting the fans from the hot, South Asian sun.
As Sieckmann teed up, the hundreds of spectators in the grandstand began yelling and waving their hands wildly. These people even ran down from the bleachers and up the fairway toward Sieckmann and his two playing partners.
The young American said he thought this was Thai fans' way to cheer for the winner.
But when Sieckmann took a closer look at just what was going on way down there at the end of that final hole, he knew better. What he saw scared him as well as all of those Thai spectators.
A big, Burmese python had slithered up behind the grandstand and out onto the awning. It was hanging over the edge of that awning swinging the front 4 or 5 feet of its huge body back and forth like a deadly pendulum.
"No wonder they were all screaming and running toward me," Sieckmann said. "And all the time I thought they appreciated how well I played."
One scenario about the origins of golf claims that it was Dutch sailors who began the game in St. Andrews, Scotland, in the 15th century when that North Sea town was a major port for mainland European goods.
These crewmen from merchant vessels anchored in the St. Andrews harbor would go ashore to visit the public houses. On their way to town from the beach, they began hitting small rocks into rabbit holes with sticks. And on their return to their ships they did the same, possibly making a small wager on who could get his rock into the next hole in the least whacks.
We play this most difficult of games where once wild animals made it possible to come up with the idea of the sport. So don't criticize critters for roaming our courses. Or should I say, "Their courses?"
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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