Strange Things That Can Happen on a Golf Course
The PGA Tour is not the Stanley Cup Final—the top two money leaders don’t end the season by playing full-contact golf until someone wins four holes.
Golf is a game of rare skill and mental fortitude, but it’s not a sport to be confused with pro football or the NBA. PGA stars are athletes, but when someone “misses the cut,” it doesn’t mean you won’t see them at the next tournament.
But, just because golf isn’t a full-contact sport—or the fact the most talented players wear polo shirts on game day—doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its risks. No other major sport asks both its wealthy superstars and terrified rookies to deal with topography and all the upsetting things that come with varied land features.
Golf makes man and nature come together for the sake of a small, dimpled ball and a scorecard. And that intersection of man and nature can be the difference between a great or disastrous finish.
It may be a gentleman’s game, but between the pits of murky water, cliffs and other geologic accoutrements—including the aggressive flora and fauna—golf is truly the most dangerous pastime.
Alligators in the Water Hazards
Alligators are so common in golf course water hazards that putting a date and/or event on this would be ridiculous. If the course is in the South, there’s a fantastic chance gators are lurking just below the surface, making the water a literal hazard, even if alligator attacks on golfers are rare.
Actually, There Are Alligators Everywhere
Alligators are cold-blooded creatures, which means they don’t spend their entire lives in water, because they need to get out on occasion and sun themselves.
Plus, it’s hard to imagine that golf course water hazards (minus the alligators) are interesting, so they probably like getting a little land exercise and seeing the sights.
Florida’s Myakka Pines Golf Course is famous for a 13-foot alligator, naturally dubbed Goliath, who is known to roam the course on occasion. He’s become a well-known attraction at the seventh hole, where he enjoys munching on turtles.
Exposure to the Elements
Date: May 2015
Event: Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout, Round 2
Although officials usually delay play if weather gets too serious, golfers are at serious risk for lightning strikes and flying debris on the open course—especially if they're standing under a tree with a metal-based umbrella.
Really Freaky Fans
Date: August 2009
Event: Buick Open, Round 3
Professional athletes in traditional team sports get used to this sort of thing—send that dude to a Canucks game and he'd barely get a second look—but golf is supposed to a move civilized affair. Not only can a guy like that distract the competitors, but he can upset the viewing gallery all dang day.
If anyone has ever seen that episode of Seinfeld with the pilot in the audience who really freaks Jerry out, and I’m assuming every last one of you worth knowing has, you know what this is all about.
You Could Get Arrested
Date: August 2004
Event: Buick Open
Unfortunately, I was unable to find the details of exactly went down here, but it sure looks like someone was acting up enough to get arrested. And whatever went down, it looks like the cop on the left is reaching for his gun, meaning the offender got off lucky! Assuming he wasn't actually shot, which can't be ruled out.
Sometimes You Gotta Get Your Feet Wet
Date: August 2012
Event: World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, Final Round
First of all, getting in the water, even if it’s just one foot, is putting oneself at risk to a whole host of immediate dangers—alligators, snapping turtles, aggressive fish, brain-eating amoebas. But even after a golfer takes the shot, the rush to put shoes and socks back on means walking around with wet feet all day, increasing the risk of trench foot substantially.
Stray Dogs Stealing Your Stuff
Date: October 2012
Event: Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Day 2
Dogs make occasional appearances at golf tournaments, but not nearly as many as you’d expect. Maybe they’re smarter than people and prefer to avoid alligators, or maybe they just like soccer and baseball a lot more. That being said, when man’s best friend shows up on the scene, he comes to play.
Much like this stray dog that stormed the Old Course St. Andrews in 2012, who took off with Paul Casey’s ball “20 feet from the cup on his third hole,” per Golf.com. Said Casey, “It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever happened on a golf course. I noticed the dog on the 12th tee and he sort of followed us down the fairway before taking a real like to my golf ball.”
He's just lucky that dog isn't as tough as it looks, because he looks like a bruiser. Some dogs, no matter how intimidating, just can't resist running off with a ball.
Super Scary Hyperbolic Signs
Date: April 2011
Event: Ballantine's Championship, Day 4
Maybe South Korea is just a better safe-than-sorry kind of country—who can blame them—but what kind of course are golfers playing on when that kind of fall is a possibility. It looks like there’s a chance of falling off a mountain, or at the very least, a dangerous water slide.
Speaking of Scary Signs
Date: April 2011
Event: Ballantine's Championship, Day 2
So not only can you fall off massive cliffs on this golf course in South Korea, but when you get to the bottom, you’re probably going to be surrounded by snakes. Assuming you survive in the first place, which didn’t look likely based on that first sign.
Um, Speaking of Snakes
Date: May 2013
Event: The Players Championship, Round 2
This snake isn’t on the South Korean course, which sucks because we all wanted to see some of the actual dangers there, but it’s actually even more unfortunate because it hits a lot closer to home. That terrifying swimming companion is doing his morning laps at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Hit a ball in the water hazard? Uh...I'll take the drop, thanks.
Dangerous Errant Golf Balls
Date: November 2006
Event: UBS Hong Kong Open, Pro-Am
Fore! Golfers and the viewing gallery are always at risk of being clocked in the dome (or anywhere else) by an errant shot. This is more of an issue with amateur players, but even the pros have been known to shank one into the crowd.
Being hit on the dome is a constant danger for golfers when pros aren't involved, mostly because golf is a tough game and most people who pretend to play it suck.
Not so Sweet Swans
Date: August 2012
Event: SSE Scottish Senior Open, Day 2
Waterfowl are all over the place at golf courses, and among the most beautiful and majestic are swans. The scariness of a given bird is often given away by their looks, like vultures and emu. Birds on golf courses don’t tend to worry people—but maybe they should. Swans aren’t nearly as placid and serene as they look; in fact, they’re known to be aggressive and downright dangerous.
First of all, they may be pretty, but that doesn’t mean they like having their picture taken—in July 2014 a man at a Kansas zoo was attacked by a swan, who charged him while he leaned over a fence, trying to take a selfie. Since 2010 they’ve made it a habit of attacking rowers on the River Cam in England.
And that’s nothing—swans can actually be deadly. In April 2012 a man in Chicago drowned after being attacked by a particularly psychotic swan while kayaking in a pond.
Four Words: Sand in Your Eyes
Date: February 2009
Event: Johnnie Walker Classic, Round 2
Considering how awful it is to get sand anywhere in or on your body, it’s amazing how attracted to sand/beaches we are as a species. Golfers face the possibility of getting sand in their eyes, and wherever else, every time a ball lands in a sand trap. And if it's early in the round, he or she has to walk around dealing with the aftermath for hours in the (potentially) hot sun.
Date: August 2008
Event: Scandinavian Masters Previews
Crayfish aren’t exactly known to be dangerous creatures because of their diminutive size, but there’s something menacing about this bad boy on the Arlandastad Golf Club in Sweden. Maybe it’s because it decided to claim a golf ball for no reason whatsoever.
It’s not like he can eat it or even carry it anywhere to impress a lady—the dexterity in that department is just lacking, sorry guy—so it’s like he’s just looking for a confrontation. Which seems even more likely when you look him straight in the eye.
Kangaroos with No Boundaries
Date: April 2013
Event: Australian Women’s Open, First Round
Unless there’s a particularly careless zookeeper and a major escape, kangaroos aren’t something you’ll see on a golf course in anywhere but Australia, where they’ve been known to make their presence felt.
Attracted to the lush vegetation that courses offer during the dry season, kangaroos are there to dine, not hit the driving range. A common sight during certain parts of the year, a troop of kangaroos, who gave exactly zero flips, interrupted first-round play during the Women’s Australia Open in Canberra a few years back.
The adorable marsupials aren’t known to be excessively dangerous to humans, although they do enjoy fighting among themselves and are not above the occasional cheap shot. So if you ever find yourself playing golf in Australia, remember to watch your back, especially around the water hazards.
Date: April 2013
Event: Zurich Classic Golf
Anyone who has ever had the pleasure to drive a golf cart is well-aware of the gravitational pull they possess toward wreaking havoc. There’s something about those things that turn far too many of us into 10-year-olds in bumper cars. Even though they’re outlawed for professional tournaments, golf carts get plenty of use by lesser golfers involved in lesser pursuits.
The potential for wrecking into the other half of your foursome is always there, as is careening off into a water hazard and/or flipping the cart. You'd think a silver lining would be that they'd protect you from alligators, but apparently, not so much.
Spooky Spiders Trying to Kill You
Date: December 2013
Event: Hyundai Tournament of Championships, Preview Day 2
Despite all the other wildlife around the world that golfers have to contend with, one thing they usually don’t have to battle are bugs. Thanks, excessive use of environmentally devastating pesticides!
Well, apparently Australia is so overrun with terrifying venomous spiders that it would be impossible to eradicate them all. At least not without accidentally eradicating vital links of the food chain along the way, which is never ideal.
Nobody knows about Oz’s creepy crawly problem better than Swedish golfer Daniela Holmqvist, who was reportedly bitten by a redback spider, which is related to the black widow, during the qualifying round of the Women’s Australian Open in 2013, according to The Associated Press on Golf.com.
According to her own account, she used a golf tee to pierce the bitten area and squeeze out the (potentially fatal) venom. Holmqvist noted “it wasn’t the prettiest thing [I'd] ever done,” but she was able to finish the round under medical supervision. Sadly, she missed the cut and didn’t even get to compete in the tournament.
Attack of the Birds
Date: February 2011
Event: Waste Management Phoenix Open, Round 1
Believe it or not, a lot of people are hilariously afraid of birds. Maybe it’s because they saw The Birds as a child, or they once made the mistake of trying to feed a single seagull a single potato chip at Myrtle Beach during a class trip and learned that’s not how the world works (which may or may not have happened to me). Or maybe they’re just freaking babies.
For anyone with an intense, but mostly irrational, phobia of birds, one of the last places you want to be is a golf course. The water hazards are the perfect places for waterfowl to congregate. The water is great for hanging out and socializing, while the grass is the perfect place for defecating, because there is usually a small army of people employed to clean up the fairways and greens.
The thing about birds on a golf course is that they become accustomed to humans and, besides alligators, don’t really have any natural predators. Which means they can become aggressive, stop migrating and just generally spend their days ruining the lives of every human they encounter.
Sink Holes Might Swallow You Up
Date: May 2015
Usually when talking golf, any reference of a hole has to do with the little plastic cup on the greens. Recently, that all changed at a par-three course designed by Jack Nicklaus in Branson, Missouri, where a geological nightmare happened. The aforementioned nightmare being two sinkholes "80 feet wide and 35 deep in some places,” near the course’s driving range, per ABC6 Philadelphia.
The good news is that the terrifying sink holes are far enough away from the course that they won’t impact play, but the bad news is they’re “fairly common in the Ozarks,” which (presumably) means there could be more to come.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Date: December 2014
Event: Alfred Dunhill Championship, Day 4
Golf courses in the U.S. have their share of wildlife invasions, but the scariest animal one is likely to run into is an alligator, which generally looks too bored to even think about going after a human. It’s like they’ve done a cost-benefit analysis as a species and have largely decided it’s not worth it. Crocodiles, on the other hand, did the same thing and ended up with an entirely different outcome.
Overseas, however, it’s a different situation. Take the Leopard Creek Country Club in South Africa, for example, which apparently has hippos among the wildlife living on and around the course. According to GoAfrica.com, “the hippo is responsible for more human fatalities in African than any other large animal.” The males are particularly aggressive, but a female with a calf won’t hesitate to throw down either. Although they look clunky and spend most of their time in the water, hippos can reach speeds upward of 20 miles per hour.
Which isn’t ideal for humans, considering they’re easily frightened. Hippos kill more than 500 people in Africa each year, so keep your eyes peeled when golfing in South Africa.
Being in Charge of Your Own Balls
Date: June 2014
Event: Deutsche Bank Players Championship of Europe, Round 2
Are there any other sports in which the athlete is completely in charge of all his own equipment, down to the ball? No way. In fact, it’s the exact opposite—there is often a huge crew of people employed solely for the purpose of making sure athletes have their equipment.
Look at these poor guys at the European Players Championship, all gathered together, staring into a filthy pond for a tiny white ball—an alligator could take one of them down in a second. If this was tennis, some speedy teenager would be there in a millisecond with a new one.
In golf, these guys have to fish it out themselves or take a penalty.
So What's the Rabies Situation Here?
Date: March 2008
Event: CA Championship Previews
Listen, folks, obviously the threat of rabies isn’t a huge problem for golfers on the course. In fact, the overall threat of rabies for humans anywhere in the first world tends to be overstated. Yes, it’s basically 100 percent fatal if contracted, but the chances of contracting it from an infected animal are minute.
And that’s assuming that the supposedly infected animal is actually infected, which isn’t always the case. Just because you see a raccoon wandering around during the day or a fox drinking water doesn’t mean it has rabies.
That being said, raccoons, foxes, bats, cats, dogs and other animals that are known to be carriers of the disease are often spotted on and around golf courses. Basically, none of them have rabies, but even the idea that they could is scary when you’re talking about a 100 percent mortality rate.
Can you even imagine a raccoon just wandering onto a football field? No, you cannot.
Date: May 2012
Event: BMW PGA Championships, Day 3
Outside of carefully placed hazards, golf courses aren’t designed or known to be tremendously treacherous. But don’t tell that to PGA pro Luke Donald, who struggled getting over what looks to be sizable drainage ditch at the Wentworth Club in Surrey, England. Donald had to straddle the ditch after hitting his ball into the water hazard on the 15th hole.
When Baboons Breach Boundaries
Date: December 2014
Event: Nedbank Golf Challenge, Day 1
Remember Luke Donald from the previous slide, who had to straddle a ditch after hitting his ball into the drink? Well, that has nothing on what he went through last December! During a practice round ahead of the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, Donald barely escaped an awkward run-in with what looked to be a dominant alpha male baboon, thanks to a quick warning from his caddie.
Obviously, the animal wasn’t intent on taking anyone down, because he easily could have, but just having monkeys like that running around is bound to fray the nerves. South African players have to have an edge in this sort of environment, since baboons are pervasive in the country.
Johnny Manziel Might Accost You
Date: June 2015
Event: AT&T Byron Nelson Golf Tournament
At a recent tournament in Texas, former Texas A&M standout quarterback and current Cleveland Browns clipboard holder, Johnny Manziel attracted the ire of a fan after repeatedly refusing to sign an autograph. The fan then started heckling him, with the final straw for Manziel being told that Ryan Tannehill, another former Aggies QB, is way better than him.
Apparently, the truth hurts because that's when Manziel snapped, chucking a water bottle at the agitator. The bottle didn’t even come close to hitting the intoxicated “fan,” prompting him to say sarcastically, “Nice throw, Johnny.” The snarky comment further enraged Manziel, who reportedly had to be held back from going after the guy, according to the New York Daily News.
No charges were pressed as a result of the incident, but the whole thing proved that golf can be a tinderbox when Johnny Football is involved. Then again, what isn’t a tinderbox when he’s involved?