Golfers: Watch out for snakes, alligators and poisonous plants

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

 Golf has inherent dangers: back sprains, errant golf balls, clubs that fly out of sweaty hands, carts that can overturn on steep hillsides. 

But on the Carolina Coast, other dangers lurk in the ponds, lakes, marshes and pine forests, and we need to be aware of them.

Over the years, I’ve seen uniformed folks do some incredibly stupid things. For example, I was taking photos at Oyster Bay several years ago for a Beacon article. Designed by Dan Maples, Oyster Bay is one of Brunswick County’s finest, with many ponds and salt marshes lining the fairways. 

It was late in the afternoon (the best time for course photography) and I was sitting in my cart waiting for a tee to clear so I could take some photos. Four guys hit their shots and came off the tee box.

“Hey, look at that gator over there,” said one, pointing at a large alligator that was lying next to a nearby pond.

“Nah, that’s not a real gator,” said the other. “It’s a statue. They put those around for the tourists. Here, I’ll show you.”

The guy started toward the gator, holding out his golf club as if he were going to poke the beast. I leaped out of the cart with my arms outstretched. “Sir, I live here and I assure you, that is a real alligator and you don’t want to go near it!”

The fool grumbled at bit, but at his friend’s urging got into his cart and disappeared toward the green. Later that night, Gene told me that I had missed the photo-journalistic opportunity of a lifetime. After all, I had a camera in my hand. Photographs of a golfer tangling with a large gator would have made it onto CNN, ABC, NBC, Golf Channel and every news source in the country. 

In retrospect, I probably saved that poor man’s life and I still feel good about it.

To learn about the many forms of wildlife that should be avoided, I spoke with Thomas Woods at the N.C. Cooperative Extension Office in Bolivia. Woods is from Ann Arbor, Mich. He lives at St. James Plantation, is a Master Gardener and an expert on local flora and fauna.

“Alligators are to be avoided at all costs,” he said. “They often appear to be sleeping but can move incredibly fast. They are able to carry off a fawn, a large dog, and they can be dangerous to humans. I’ve seen a gator jump straight out of the water and snag a bird in flight.”

Next on the list of animals to avoid are snakes.

“We have six kinds of poisonous snakes in Brunswick County,” he said. “We have cottonmouth moccasins, copperheads, pigmy rattlers, timber rattlers, eastern diamondback rattlers and coral snakes.”

“Coral snakes are somewhat rare in these parts,” he said. “They are colorful with bands of yellow, black and red. An old country saying goes like this: Red next to yellow and kill a fellow. Red next to black is friend of Jack’s.”

He went on to explain that poisonous snakes have a triangular-shaped head and vertical slits for their pupils. Quite frankly, I don’t want to get close enough to look into the eyeballs of a snake. We both agreed that golfers should avoid all snakes and not worry about identifying them.

“Water moccasins are often found near bodies of water and they can be territorial and aggressive,” he said.

One of my friends, Bonnie Giehl, was recently poking around a pond at Brick Landing looking for her golf ball when a water moccasin attacked her ball retriever. She won’t go near that particular pond now.

So, dear reader, avoid alligators and snakes. Even a Pro V1 isn’t worth a bite.

“If you do get bitten by a snake, go to a hospital,” Woods said. “Stay calm, don’t run or get excited, that will only move the poison through your system at a quicker rate. In most cases, a snake bite won’t kill you and often the hospitals don’t inject anti-venom anymore. They just treat the symptoms.

“Forest creatures are cute and they were here long before our golf courses. Some animals like raccoons and foxes are known to carry rabies. In the wild, most of these animals avoid human beings, but you see a fox or a raccoon wandering around in the daytime and looking confused and ill, get away immediately. Raccoons in North Carolina inflict more rabid bites than any other animal.”  

Tom warned us to stay away from red ants when playing golf. Fire ants are tiny, hardly visible to the naked eye. Their hills look like innocent piles of fine sawdust or loose dirt, but they can inflict painful bites, which can be particularly dangerous to people with allergic reactions.

According to an abstract from North Carolina State University, fire ants can sting repeatedly and victims are usually stung multiple times by several ants. Worse, still, their venom contains trace amounts of protein. Some people are highly allergic to these proteins and go into anaphylactic shock when stung.

I’ve seen golfers lay down their putters when they hit out of a bunker. The ants crawl onto the club and the golfer gets stung moments later when he tries to putt. The little buggers are so small that you cannot feel them crawling up your arm until they start to sting.  

“Many golfers who are allergic to stings carry an EpiPen, which they can use to inject epinephrine in case they get stung,” Woods said.

One last cautionary tale about the dangers that can be found on golf courses: poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. 

According to Woods, these plants are indigenous to this area and must be avoided. Hopefully, all of us will go straight down the middle of the fairway, but once in while, we all hit that errant shot into the woods.

“Golfers should be able to identify these three poisonous plants,” Woods said. “Virginia creeper is a non-toxic look-alike and is found almost everywhere in Brunswick County. Poison ivy is often found growing up tree trunks but you need to know what it looks like. You can Google it and find photos of the plant and close-ups of the leaves.”  

I’m making it sound as if golf is the most dangerous sport in the world. It’s not, but golfers need to be cautious about reptiles, insects, wild animals and poisonous plants.

If you see a fox or raccoon that’s acting strange, call animal control at (910) 754-8204. You will be speaking with Lt. Thomas Tolley of the sheriff’s department. He is in charge of animal control.

“We don’t want anyone interacting with a sick or potentially dangerous animal. Call us. That’s why we’re here,” he said.

For more information on the flora and fauna of Brunswick County, call Woods at (910) 253-2610.

“We also have a satellite program at the Hickman’s Road Library on Fridays from 9 a.m. until noon. Folks can come and talk with us there,” he said.

So, dear readers, be careful in your yard, your garden and on the golf course. We want you all to stay safe this summer.


Golf Gag groaner: Golf is the perfect thing to do on Sunday because you spend more time praying on the course than you would in church.

(Submitted by Bill Frotheringham)