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One of the more fascinating animals on the Carolina Coast is the alligator. On hot summer days, you can see them, lying like logs along the rivers, marshes and ponds in Brunswick County.
If the golf course you play has rivers, marshes and ponds, it’s almost a given that there will be gators on it.
These are beautiful prehistoric animals that are native to this region. They were here long before our retirement communities, restaurants, shopping malls, highways and homes. With care, they will still be here a hundred years from today, providing a backward glance at our world as it was millions of years ago when large reptiles roamed the earth.
Let me tell you a story about how I came to write this column.
Several weeks ago, I was in a golf cart at one of our local courses, taking pictures for an article I was writing for the Island Living section of this newspaper. It was late in the day (the best time for golf-course photography) and I was waiting quietly near a tee box for some golfers to hit so I could photograph that hole.
There were several large ponds in the area, and to my left, not too far away, was a very large alligator dozing in the slanting sunshine.
As the men came off the tee box, one of them spotted the alligator.
“Hey, look at that alligator over there,” he said and pointed past me.
“That’s not a real alligator,” said his buddy. “He’s not moving That’s a statue.”
Duuuuuhhh. These were obviously first-time visitors, because everyone who lives here or has visited with any regularity knows that alligators often lie in one position for hours at a time.
“No, it’s a fake, insisted the first guy. “I’ll show you.”
He started toward me with his club pointed forward, obviously intent on poking the sleeping gator behind me.
I leaped out of the cart and placed myself directly between the man and the gator.
“Sir,” I said with my hands up. “That is a real gator, and I strongly advise you not to go near him.”
He looked at me as if I were the fool, shook his head and started past me.
“I live here,” I said firmly, shifting and moving into his path. “That is a real alligator and you don’t want to poke him.”
“C’mon Lester,” called his friend. “Let’s play golf. Leave the gator alone.”
“That’s no gator,” the fool said loudly. “That’s a statue they put there for the tourists.”
He muttered a few more words, then climbed into his cart and drove off.
I missed a golden journalistic opportunity that day. I would have made the AP wire services, CNN, Headline News, CBS, ABC and NBC with my photographs of a 12-foot gator dragging a golfer into the pond, huge jaws clamped around the man’s foot while he struggled and screamed for help and his clueless friends watched in horror.
I thought about that episode and decided I needed to write a column about alligators and what golfers need to know about them.
First of all, my earlier reference to being prehistoric is true. Alligators are often called a “living fossil from the age of reptiles” because they have survived on earth for 200 million years.
Secondly, alligators are native to North Carolina. Visitors or those who have recently moved here often sometimes call the authorities when they see a gator. They think it escaped from a nearby zoo and they want someone to come and take it away.
Third, an average adult alligator weighs 800 pounds and is 13-feet long. That’s the average, folks, some are even bigger.
Alligators can live 50 years or more. If a gator has been lying on a riverbank off and on for 30 years or more, he might not want to be disturbed. It’s his home.
I spoke with Matt Criscoe, a North Carolina State wildlife officer, who works for the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, to learn more about alligators and how golfers can coexist with them.
“First of all, golfers need to know that alligators are native to his region,” Matt said. “People think they’re only in Florida in the Everglades, but they’re here too. We have a large gator population in North Carolina, particularly in the southern coastal regions.
“Golfers need to respect alligators. They are large animals and can be dangerous if provoked. They have a real quick burst of energy and can run faster than a man for a short distance. If you poke a sleeping alligator, it might do what we call a quick ‘C.’ The tail knocks you down and the jaws swing around and grab you.”
Wow, I thought. I won’t be poking an alligator with my golf club.
“People see one lying still for hours and think it’s a fake, but an alligator will lie on a river bank in the same position for half a day. When a gator is provoked, it’s unreal how fast it can move. Golfers should stay at least 50 feet away from an alligator and under no circumstance should they throw something at it or poke it.”
Matt also suggested that a golfer who hits his ball into a swampy area be cautious.
“Swamp water is dark and murky, there are reeds and tall grasses and other vegetation that obscures your view. An alligator could be lurking in the water and you can’t really see him. It might warn you with a hiss, but you don’t really want to get that close. Just leave the ball in the water if you cannot see what’s nearby.”
Another cautionary tale is about feeding alligators.
“It is against the law to feed alligators,” Matt said. “Feeding them creates a huge problem because they’re not dumb animals. If you feed an alligator, it will eventually lose its natural fear of humans. It will come at people because it’s looking for the easy handout.
“A few years ago, some visitors to Yellowstone Park got mauled because everyone had been feeding the bears. The same thing could happen here. Do not feed alligators. They have plenty of natural food out there.”
Golfers should be aware that according to the rules of golf, they get a free lift from a dangerous situation, and what could be more dangerous than an alligator?
According to the Interpretations of the Rules of Golf: It is unreasonable to expect the player to play from such a dangerous situation and unfair to require the player to incur a penalty under Rule 26 (Water Hazards) or Rule 28 (Ball Unplayable). The player should be permitted, without penalty, to drop a ball on the nearest spot not nearer the hole which is not dangerous.
So take the drop far from the alligator. I don’t want to write a sad story about what happened to someone who poked a gator with a driver.
GOLF GAB GROANER
Ralph just loved the game of golf, but as he got older, he wondered whether there were any golf courses in heaven. He’d spent much of his life playing golf and he didn’t want to spend eternity without it.
He went to a fortuneteller and asked her about whether there were any golf courses in heaven.
The fortuneteller passed her hands over the crystal ball, muttered a few chants, then looked up at Ralph.
“I have good news and bad news,” she said.
“Tell me the good news first,” Ralph said.
“There are beautiful golf courses in heaven with velvet greens, lush fairways, sparkling lakes and pure white sand. It never rains and you’ll have 24-hour access with your own personal caddie.”
“Wow, that’s great,” said Ralph with a huge grin. “What’s the bad news?”
“You tee off at 10:15 on Saturday morning.”
ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.