Home / Opinion / Golf: Close encounters on a course

Golf and wildlife. Plaid pants and spotted hyenas. Really?

Okay, ordinarily the two don’t come up in the same sentence. But do consider that the game is played over sprawling tracts of land with lots of greenery thrown in. There’s grass, shrubs and trees in large quantities. Plenty of room to nestle down in, and then feed and breed. Aha, now you see the connect.

So every once in a while, the usual routine of birdies (not the feathered ones) and bogies gets sidetracked and a new subplot bursts on to the scene. As happened at the Maybank Malaysian Open a couple of weeks ago.

Playing the fifth hole at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, Pablo Larrazábal swatted what he thought was a harmless fly from near his nose. It turned out to be a hornet, and fellow hornets did not take kindly to one of their kind being slapped around. They ganged up on Larrazábal. Under attack, the golfer sprinted down the fairway, waving a towel around him. When that didn’t help, Larrazábal’s playing partners hollered to him to jump into the nearby lake, which he promptly did. The man showed admirable presence of mind in throwing down his scorecard and whipping off his golf shoes before diving in. Wet and shaken, the Spaniard was stung about 20 times and had to be administered a couple of injections by the on-course medical staff.

Again, to his credit, Larrazábal decided to play on and birdied the par-five where his progress had been painfully disrupted. “It was the scariest moment of my career," said the 30-year-old.

Funnily enough, his favourite week on the European Tour is the one spent at the Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa for the Alfred Dunhill Championship. A similar assault there would leave Larrazábal with little option but to keep running in the direction of the clubhouse.

The choice between hornets and crocodiles is a no-brainer. In fact, the water around the 15th and 16th holes there is patrolled by a hippo called Harry. Apparently, hippos are a grumpy lot. Leopard Creek also houses an assortment of lovelies like black mambas, Mozambique spitting cobras and puff adders. With the Kruger National Park in the neighbourhood, a perimeter fence attempts to keep lions and elephants off the premises. Finally, as the name suggests, a couple of leopards are always hanging about. Not knowing what may creep up on you, keeping your eyes on the golf ball must be a challenge there.

My thoughts go back to the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic at the Alpine Golf Club, outside Bangkok. Walking with Jeev Milkha Singh I saw him break into a hop, skip and jump as he climbed on to an elevated tee. “He’s playing well but not that well," I thought. Later he tells me that he came unnervingly close to planting a foot on a cobra.

Here’s one from the personal archives. The year escapes me but I can’t forget the venue. The Frima Golf Club in Dehradun. Anybody heading out to play was handed a blanket, along with a scorecard. No, not to keep warm but to keep the bees at bay. Every time the little pests were in the vicinity, the recommended drill was that you hit the ground and covered yourself with the blanket. A couple of army men stalked the course with shotguns. This was to take care of the pesky crows who would make off with golf balls.

But the best came one afternoon as I sat at the bar, a glass of beer in hand. A primate of impressive proportions sauntered in right through the main door. He looked very much at home. He walked past me and climbed on to a bar stool a couple of seats away. I looked at the barman and then I looked at my drink. “Has this guy slipped me a mickey?" I said to myself. Both, the beast and the barman, were unperturbed. Nothing out of the ordinary here. It was quite normal for an ape to walk in and park himself at the bar. While we are at it, I expected him to say something along the lines of, “I’ll have my regular, old chap", or make a grab for my drink, which I would have given away gladly. Thank God for small mercies, none of that happened.

The hairy gent sat there for some never-ending minutes, had a look around (we didn’t make eye contact) and then walked out as nonchalantly as he had come in. Like a golf club member. Actually, better behaved than some I know.

Prabhdev Singh is the founding editor of Golf Digest India and a part-time golfer.

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