Golfers love a challenge. They must, because every time they step on to the links and tee up a ball they not only have to overcome other golfers, but also the terrain, traps, and water hazards. In some cases there are even wild animal hazards to deal with.
On Good Friday, 1964 Alaska was clobbered by a colossal 9.2 magnitude earthquake. Four men had paid a snowplow operator to clear a few holes on a snow covered Anchorage golf course. When the quake struck they rocked and rolled for nearly four minutes as the earth below Alaska released its pent-up fury. A humongous earthquake wasn’t going to stop them, however. They had paid to play a few holes and they were going to do just that.
They soon discovered the quake had opened a huge fissure, big enough to swallow a hundred men, in the middle of the second fairway.
If a hole suddenly opened in the middle of a football field, or in centerfield on a baseball field, officials would stop the game. But some golfers it seems enjoy such things. They reckon them as challenges to be conquered rather than obstacles to their game.
The Alaskan golfers kept playing by hitting their shots over the gaping hole, and then trudging a half-mile through snow to get around it. When they reached the third green, however, their game abruptly ended. The third green had disappeared, literally, into another gaping hole. They grumbled and complained all the way back to the clubhouse.
Many golfers can tolerate whatever life throws at them, but there are certain hazards they’d rather not deal with.
The late Gene Sarazen, who invented the sand wedge, and was the first of only five players to win all four Grand Slam titles: the Masters, British Open, 2 U.S. Opens and 3 PGA titles between 1922-35, said the most nerve-wracking round of golf he ever played was in Burma during a 1965 exhibition match at the Rangoon Country Club.
“It was hot, and I was wilting, and when I teed off from the first tee, I topped the ball,” he said. It bounced a couple hundred yards down the fairway and then veered into some tall jungle grass. When his caddie just stood there and didn’t go after the errant ball, Sarazen waded into the grass and started prodding around with his club.
“I rather think you don’t want to go after that ball,” a club official told him.
“I was irritated by what I took to be the arrogance of his British voice,” Sarazen recalled. “And just why don’t I want to go after that ball?” I asked. “I was pretty nasty.”
The man’s response made Sarazen gasp. “Cobras,” he said. “Hundreds of them.”
“The rest of the afternoon when I came within twenty feet of the rough, I took my penalty strokes and played a new ball,” he declared. “I don’t recall my score, but…If I can’t better that score when I’m 90 years old, I’ll give up golf for good.”
Golf pro Jim Stewart came face to face with cobra during the 1982 Singapore Open at the Singapore Island Country Club. He dispatched the 10-foot snake with a golf club, only to have another snake slither from its mouth and disappeared into the rough.
Historians tell us the modern game of golf originated in Scotland, and that James II banned the game in 1457 (that was 35 years before Columbus discovered America). He claimed it was a distraction to learning archery. In reality he probably wasn’t very good at golf. The ban was lifted in 1502, by James IV who perhaps played a round or two and became hooked on the game.
Golf is a game that will certainly challenge one’s sportsmanship, patience and resiliency. And it doesn’t matter how good of a golfer you are, or how famous your personage, aggravation is just one stroke ahead of you.
President Eisenhower was an avid golfer before, during and after his eight years in office. He played many of the world’s best courses and was a member of the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club.
Rae’s Creek is a particularly irksome water hazard on the NAGC course. During one round, early in his presidency, Ike teed off and the ball landed on a sand bar in Rae’s Creek. At the urging of his golfing partner, Clifford Roberts, Ike climbed into the water hazard to try to play the ball. As soon as he stepped onto the sand bar, however, he sunk up to his knees in quicksand.
It took all the might of two Secret Service agents to pull him from the quagmire. The president was still vivid when he returned from the clubhouse after changing his clothes. He told Roberts that he would never again listen to his advice concerning golf.
Pro golfer Tom Weiskopf also had a bad day at Rae’s Creek. Playing in a tournament, his tee shot didn’t reach the 12th green. Instead it squirted down an embankment and into the creek. Eleven shots later, he was finally on the green.
Some golfers will play a round no matter what’s going on. Consider this World War II list of “Temporary Rules” for the Richmond Golf Club in Sudbrook Park, England:
• Players are asked to collect bomb and shrapnel splinters to avoid damage to the mowing machines.
• In competition, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take shelter without penalty for ceasing play.
• The positions of known delayed-action bombs are marked by red-flags at a reasonable, but not guaranteed, safe distance therefrom.
• Shrapnel and/or bomb splinters on the fairways or in bunkers, within a club’s length of a ball, may be moved without penalty.
• A ball moved by enemy action may be replaced, or if destroyed, a ball may be dropped not nearer the hole without penalty.
• A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball. Penalty, one stroke.
In the United States Golf Association's “Rules of Golf,” Rule No. 13 basically states that a golfer’s shot “must be played as it lies.” Moving the ball, or otherwise not living up to that rule is frowned upon by ardent golfers. But occasionally there is no way a player can comply with the rule.
One famous occasion where Rule No. 13 couldn’t be followed occurred during a 1983 LPGA tournament in Minnesota. Elaine Johnson had an absolute impossible shot. On one of her tee shots her ball hit a tree, ricocheted back and hit her just below the throat. The ball dropped straight down the front of her blouse and lodged in her bra. Stunned, she contemplated the situation for a few seconds before declaring: “I’ll take a two-shot penalty, I’ll be darned if I’ll play it where it lies.”
Want a real golfing challenge? Then head for Uummannaq, Greenland. It’s 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 300 miles south of the North Pole. Every March the World Ice Golf Championship is played there. The average temperature in Uummannaq in March is six degrees Fahrenheit. But it sometimes rises to 12-degrees in the afternoons. On the other hand, it usually doesn’t snow much in Uummannaq in March. Don’t bring your graphite shaft clubs, however, since they can shatter due to the cold.
The nine-hole course meanders over frozen tundra, fjords and icebergs. Orange colored balls are used because they are reasonably easy to see in the miles of white ice and snow. The greens are really whites and are outlined in red in order to distinguish them from the rest of the course. Players are allowed to sweep a smooth path to the hole, and brooms are provided. The holes themselves may have to be cleaned of accumulated snow and ice debris.
Golfers battle the elements, and potential frostbite, not to mention the occasional polar bear, for 36 bone-chilling holes. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Not all golf hazards are manmade or a part of the terrain. La Paz, Bolivia boasts one of the highest golf courses in the world. The first tee is at well over 10,000 feet above sea level, and parts of the course are more than 11,000 feet high. Dense clouds aren’t an uncommon hazard. More than a few golfers say they have hit balls into cloudbanks that were never found.
One American playing the course for the first time said, “You don’t need caddies here, you need Alpine guides.” A friendly Bolivian golfer told him, “No, not guides, here you need angels.”
The U.S. Army’s Camp Bonifas in South Korea has a tiny golf course that’s reputed to be the world’s most dangerous golf course. Its status is well deserved. Part of its out of bounds area is populated with land mines. And it’s about 440 yards from the DMZ and the scrutiny of North Korean border guards.
The course is simple: a single par-3 hole with a 192-yard fairway. That’s it. The green and tee box are covered in artificial turf. The out of bounds on one side is marked by barbed wire, the right by a six-foot-deep concrete trench.
A sign near the green reads: “Danger. Do not retrieve balls from the rough line mine fields.” It’s claimed that at least one errant tee shot actually did explode a land mine. It can be said with certainty that it will never be confused with the pristine courses at Pebble Beach, California, or the Augusta National Golf Course. On the other hands, Camp Bonifas personnel enjoy it.
Playing a round at the Skukuza Golf Course in South Africa can be like playing golf while on safari. The course abuts Kruger National Park, a game reserve. Golfers have to sign a liability waiver because they stand a good chance of coming face to face with lions, elephants, leopards, warthogs and other big game.
Golfers get a list of precautionary instructions telling them what to do if they encounter wild animals during a round. Amongst other things, they are advised to stay away from the any water hazards since hippopotami abound, they are very dangerous and aren’t the least bit afraid of golfers.
Mark Twain described golf as “A good walk spoiled.” Most golfers have probably agreed, at least once or twice, with Twain’s assessment. An easy putt missed, an errant drive into the rough, or a slice into a water hazard can easily disturb a golfer’s serenity. And let’s not forget the seemingly fiendish design of some golf courses and natural hazards that bring on even more frustration. Nonetheless, when asked why they continue to play this often frustrating game, most golfers will reply with something like, “Because I love the game.”
Richard Bauman has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years. He enjoys
writing about unusual places and events and the people involved in them. His
latest book is "Pranks in Print—A Collection of Fake Stories, Phony Ads, and other
Media Mischief". He and his wife, Donna, have been married 55 years, and call
West Covina, Calif., home. His website is www.richardjbauman.com.