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Showdown At Ballhawk Creek

Randy Wilson


What follows is a recently declassified story that was not included in "The Greens of Wrath".  Because it's nearly peak ballhawk season, the tale of Ballhawk Creek seems an appropriate selection for this week, and I will include a few tips to help you commit optimum ballhawkery.

I have reason to believe this will be the greatest ballhawk season since Lee Trevino won the US Open in '68.  The aftermath of that event triggered a massive surge of rabid golf newbies who covered the roughs and forests of golf with countless Titleists, Club Specials and Top-Flites.  As a former Master Ballhawk, I can sense when the balls will be plentiful, and this year looks to be dinotherian.

. . . a few tips to help you commit optimum ballhawkery.

To maximize your yield, remember that prime ball finding occurs just after a couple of hard frosts, but before all the leaves come down.  There are sweet spots out there just loaded with shiny, near virginal golfic spheres and if you don't go get them, the marshals will.  You must quickly establish your dominance over the sweet spots by deploying your AIT to harass and intimidate the predatory marshals looking to vacuum up your treasure.

Offer your rough unit operators a bounty of say, fifty cents for a pearl and a quarter each for decent balls.  (Pearls are new balls, hit once and lost; a decent ball is still round.)  Modern balls hold their shape better than the older balatas, so chances are good for a strong harvest this year.   Note:  If you discover the rough unit operator is holding out on you, pull him off his unit and have him sling blade a gravel parking lot for a day or so.

Be careful in the creek banks.  That's where Jake No-Shoulders resides, and he is fairly aggressive about protecting his balls.

Now, it's StoryTime:  "Showdown at Ballhawk Creek"

Long ago, back in the early 60's, I earned most of my wealth by ballhawking.  It was a dangerous way to make a living, as I often had to compete with older, more experienced ball retrieval experts.  On a US Army course in Bavaria, I was making upwards of $3 a day--or 12 Deutschmarks--before I ran afoul of Chet, the German golf pro/ski instructor.  Chet had the rights to lost balls on the course, but not the physical speed needed to deter pre-teen ball stealing insurgents.

A few years later, in California, I honed my ballhawk technique to a fine edge by refusing to limit my AO (Area of Operations) to just the golf course Dad operated.  It mattered not whether my victims were rich country clubs or munis, I was a heartless scourge, a ruthless raider of orphaned golf balls.   One method I favored was stashing my bicycle in the woods and wreaking havoc upon the resident fat and lazy ball hawks (marshals) toting away all their treasure while feeling no remorse at all.

Back in Tennessee, circa 1971, Dad bought a device designed to pull wayward balls out of lakes.  It resembled a tiny driving range picker, only 36" wide, and made of aluminum.  The idea was to attach ropes to both sides and drag it through the lake.  I quickly cleared our lakes of balls and moved on to other golf course lakes.  (This had to be done at night, of course.)  I became so wealthy that I bought an old ringer washing machine, lined it with carpet and using bleach, was able to refurbish lake balls to a new and gleaming state.  The sound of 50 balls agitating back and forth sounded like troops marching in crusty snow ; I can still hear that comforting sound in my head.

That operation came to an abrupt halt when I got the lake ball picker stuck in the irrigation lake on a country club near Jackson, Tennessee.  Assuming I had snagged a dead golfer--or worse, a foot valve--I cut the rope and fled.

In early autumn of 1989, I encountered my first ballhawk opponent of super-villain stature.  Known as the "Camo-BallHawk", he had been working Broken Finger CC for ten years, achieving legendary status.  A greybeard, he crept stealthily around the fringes of the course, dressed in deer hunting camo, wearing knee high snake boots and a boonie hat draped in fishnet stockings interwoven with cattails and vines.  (Sort of a swamp Ghillie Suit.)

The old man always had a canvas bag full of balls, a ball retriever, a metal trowel to dig out embedded balls and a telescopic fishing pole of the K-Mart specie.  The fishing pole was not for fishing, it was a defensive weapon.  I learned this when Langston, our top rough unit ball-hound, accused the old fellow of trespassing and general sneakiness.  Camo-BallHawk unsheathed his fishing pole and went all Errol Flynn from "Captain Blood" on Langston, flailing, slashing and swashbuckling real good before vanishing into the swamp.

I decided to vanquish the Camo-BallHawk and set about to search for him, but he was good . . . real good.  He was almost invisible in his K-Mart camo, often standing perfectly still and undetected when golf course personnel and golfers were within feet of him.  He rarely spoke, except to do the disembodied voice thing, pointing out the golfer was utilizing the wrong tree for processed beer relief.

The old man had apparently devolved from a member into a marshal

Learning that Camo-BallHawk had once been a member of Broken Finger CC, I was able to determine where he lived and with careful tracking, I discovered his point of golf course access.  He lived on the other side of I-20, which ran alongside several holes, and he always slipped in under an overpass.  The old man had apparently devolved from a member into a marshal and later was infected with inoperable Ballhawk Syndrome.

Camo-BallHawk knew I was hunting him.  He became even more ghostly, sticking to the creek banks when I was working late watering fairways.  Once, I thought I saw him standing in the deep mud of Snapfinger Creek as I went over a bridge at dusk, but when I flipped around . . . he was gone.

One evening, just before dark, I caught him crossing a fairway and cut him off with my little Honda 4-wheeler.  He pulled his fishing pole on me, swishing it around like he was an Olympic fencing master, forcing me to back off.  (Equal force and all that.)  The next morning, there he was, right out in the open, defiantly working a creek bank, aware that he had successfully faced me down.  This time, however, I was prepared.

I drew my slingshot and fired a lead fishing weight as he turned and ran for the swamp.  I was trying to pull off a Roy Rogers shot, in order to knock the bag out of his hand, but I missed and struck him dead square in the buttocks.  Camo-BallHawk yelped in pain and shrieked, "You shot me in the ass, you . . . you backshooter!"

I had been called worse names.  His verbal defense having no effect, I launched another volley of lead.  He took cover by leaping into the creek.  I crept up carefully, peering over the edge of the bank and saw Camo-BallHawk stuck up to his bony hips in creek mud.

"Gonna shoot me in the back, you little piss-aint?"  The old man threw the bag of balls on the opposite bank and commenced trying to free himself from the mud, struggling mightily without success.  Realizing he was trapped, he began to wildly wave his fishing pole blindly behind his back, in hopes of hitting me.  I wasn't sure what to do.  I was hesitant to call the cops, as I didn't have a concealed carry permit for a slingshot, but I had to do something.

After all, this was a hardened ballhawk and I would never be shed of him with mere fishing weights.  I looked at the sky and in my best Clint Eastwood, said, "It's gonna rain soon, old man . . . and this creek floods real good."

"Listen, you little bastard," Camo-BallHawk growled, "get me outa here and I won't ever come back, okay?"

"It's a deal."  Later, when I returned with Langston and the backhoe, the old man was gone, except for one snake boot barely showing in the deep mud of Snapfinger Creek.   Langston studied the situation, turned to me and said, in grave tones, "You 'spose he went under, like quicksand?"

A few months later, as I left Broken Finger for the last time, to go rebuild another terrible golf course, I waved goodbye to the crew and headed out the gravel driveway.  As I drove past #6 green, near the highway, I noticed an odd looking bush in the rough.  It was waving at me.





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I just got to this. Man, that’s funny! At a course I used to work at, the marshalls did nothing but ballhawk. They were supposed to pick up trash on their rounds but never did. We would put an empty beer can on a curb next to an old Top Rock and an hour later, the ball would be gone but the can would be standing proud. We took to taking the keys out of their carts and driving away while they were in the woods hunting. It was great sport!

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Thanks, Steve.  I used to wonder if we should make the marshals walk instead of wasting a cart just so they could sleep and tote balls, but couldn't get any support for that policy.  Your method is the answer. 

It's fair, just, and screaming funny.  Just thinking about the look on the marshal's face when he realizes the key is gone--only thing left to do is jam his radio by keying the mic when he tries to call the pro shop.  Unless he uses that cursed cell.

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Used in the rockbottum sense, it has a dual meaning, indicating plentiful and worthy of an archeological dig. 

Also,  we have a tendency to make up, twist and mangle words here, partly to see if anybody is actually reading our stuff and sometimes just because we suffer from splenetic petulance triggered by too many years hossin' a golf course. 

*Note:  I don't think dinotherian is in the scrabble dictionary, so knowledge of the word is useless.

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