Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008


Sports Editor

Undoubtedly, many children in the 70s grew up hoping to follow in the footsteps of the then U.S. President Gerald Ford.

The golf course, however, was not a desirable site to follow Ford at all.

Ford was notorious for hitting pedestrians with golf balls while playing, causing comedian Bob Hope to quip that “It’s not hard to find (Ford) on a golf course. You just follow the wounded.”

Ford passed away in December of 2006, so you won’t find him at the golf course any time soon. But that doesn’t mean that other “Gerald Fords” aren’t out there – and that means that if you aren’t careful, you may just be among the wounded.

Golf course safety, especially during the summer, has been a growing concern locally at the Belle Terre and Riverlands Country Clubs. Pedestrians choosing to take a walk on the courses while play is ongoing are putting themselves at risk, says Belle Terre owner Tim Duhe.

“When the ball comes off the club head, it’s traveling at 180 to 200 miles per hour,” Duhe said. “It’s coming down at 100 miles per hour. This is a projectile, and if you get hit by a golf ball, you’re getting popped pretty good.

“We have golfers at all levels. And even the pros hit balls into the gallery.”

Duhe says that the summer represents a time of heightened concern, due to children being out of school, and often roaming the courses unsupervised.

“Most kids will understand when you reason with them,” said Duhe. “But we’ve seen three and four year old kids going out there with fishing poles, unsupervised by parents. It’s scary stuff.”

“We see children playing in the sandtrap, with nobody else around,” said Belle Terre golf pro George Baker. “They could be killed. Parents have to respect this as a private property, not a playground.”

It can be a double-edged sword for children, who not only are threatened by balls off the tee, but also the wildlife that will find its way around the course: alligators, eagles, and nutria pose threats to an unsupervised child who may know no better.

“Of course, we want to keep the golf course close to nature, to co-exist with it” says Duhe. “But with that, all of nature’s hazards come with it.”

An extreme example of what can happen to a person struck by a stray ball is the plight of Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard, who was struck in the face as a 10-year old and suffered serious injuries – injuries that still affect her, to this day. (See sidebar).

“We just want to keep history from repeating itself,” said Duhe.

CART CATASTROPHES: Riverlands president Gordon Jeffcoat, meanwhile, has seen his club endure more issues at night, after hours.

“We’ve had some children somehow break in and get access to two of our carts. We’ve since recovered one,” said Jeffcoat. “But the other’s still missing…we’ve had them driving the carts on the greens, doing ‘donuts’ in our fairways, and causing damage.”

Baker says many don’t realize the pitfalls of driving carts recklessly on the course.

It’s a motorized vehicle, and you should drive it as you would an automobile,” Baker said.

“People drive up the sides of hills, go at the top speed and take sharp turns, causing the cart to roll over.”

Even the riding habits some don’t think twice about can cause serious damage.

“I’ve had two friends break their ankles that way,” Baker said.

Riverlands has cameras on its property, which helps deter vandalism or trespassing.

But those who ignore the warnings of “No trespassing” on the property are not only putting themselves at risk to injury, but also with the law.

“If someone’s just walking and happens to find their way onto the course, it’s no big deal,” said Jeffcoat. “But if someone’s trespassing and causing a problem, then we will call the Sheriff’s office.”

Duhe reaffirmed that idea.

“The reason that we have these ‘No trespassing’ signs is to keep everybody safe,” Duhe said. “But it is private property, and we have asked the Sheriff’s department to arrest trespassers. It can be too much of a risk.”