Wild animal kingdomJasper Park Lodge: Just the bear facts, ma'am
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, EDMONTON SUN
Golf course superintendent Brian Hill was a few minutes into his morning rounds last week when he saw the mess. A bear, drawn by the scent of freshly laid fertilizer, ambled onto one of the greens at Jasper Park Lodge and got it into his head that something was buried under the cup. So he dug it up.
Then he headed over to the next green, sniffed around the flagstick and dug up that one, too. Nothing. He went from green to green all night, leaving two foot craters where he tore out the cups.
"They smell the fertilizer and they think there's something buried in the green,'' said Hill, who's been at JPL for too long to be surprised by anything the critters throw at him.
"This one took the cups and the flagsticks right out. We should have just given him the hole changer and put him on staff.''
It's not the first time a curious bear has clawed up a green and it probably won't be the last. All you can do is shake your head, chuckle, and fix the damage.
WAS A LOT WORSE
"It used to be a lot worse when we were using nothing but organic fertilizer - they'd think there was something dead under there and be digging them up all the time. They'd go from green to green digging up the holes looking for something.''
Bears on the greens are only one of the unique challenges that come with the mountain territory, and in his 34 years on the job Hill's had to deal with it all.
In the spring it's mother elk and their calves, in the fall it's the bulls all hopped up on testosterone looking to pick fights. Throw in messy geese, antagonistic coyotes and the shortest growing season in North America and you've got one of the most demanding jobs in all of golf.
"Every day it's something,'' said Hill, who knows the 6,663-yard layout better then most of us know our own backyards. "We used to have a fence around the course, but now we've opened up a couple of our fairways for the elk corridor (a shortcut from one side of the valley to the other) so every morning we have to repair elk damage on the greens and the traps.''
RUN OF THE PLACE
Animals have the run of the place at night, golfers get it during the day. When the crew starts working at about 6 a.m., they drive the course and chase any stragglers off the fairways and into the bush.
"But they usually know when the golfers are coming,'' said Hill. "And they'll usually move off themselves.''
Head pro Kelli Fryre recalls the time they had to delay the start of a tournament one morning because a bear was sunning himself in a bunker on the first hole and wouldn't leave for anyone.
"We had to call in the Parks Department to move him,'' she said. "After that people were a little hesitant to tee off knowing a bear was around.
"Another time just as a tournament was about to tee off a bear comes flying across the fairway with an angry coyote in hot pursuit. Usually it's the other way around.''
That's JPL. You share the place with the wildlife. They were giving out a friendly reminder on the first tee last week that if your ball goes behind the green on 15, leave it - there's a mother elk there with her new calf and she's not taking kindly to strangers. A local rule gives you free relief if your ball lands in an animal footprint in a bunker.
"In the spring and fall especially there are numerous times that we have to stop play for a while until we can move somebody and make it safe again,'' said director of golf Alan Carter.
"It's a pain in the butt, sometimes, but it's also an attraction.''
A bear in the bunker is a story you can tell forever.
"Probably the most humorous one I remember having was standing on the 12th green and listening to this loud, high- pitched screech, which ended up being a baby elk that was being chased by a coyote,'' said Carter. "All of a sudden we turned around because we heard a stampede of mother elk. They ran right by us, missed us by no more than 25 feet and ran through the little walkway that runs to the 17th green.
''The next thing we see is the coyote chasing a baby elk, now being followed by about 15 elk.
''They went into the trees on the left of the 13th fairway and by the time they came out again it was now the coyote first, being chased by 20 elk, and the baby trotting out happily a few seconds later. I felt like I was on Wild Kingdom.''
Maintaining JPL's playing conditions and rustic beauty amid what can seem like a four-legged free-for-all is difficult at the best of times - especially with added obstacles like extreme temperatures and strict environmental guidelines - but that's what makes the job so special.
A DELICATE BALANCE
"It's a delicate balance out here, it's give and take,'' said Hill, who oversees a staff of 30.
"Most courses just have to worry about ball marks. Us, before we can cut the greens every morning we have to clean off the goose droppings.
"And the bulls in rutting season, stay away from them because they will come after you. They do a lot of damage in the fall with their antlers when they're fighting. They'll just tear a green a part, rip it up totally.
"It's a challenge, but if I wanted it any other way I wouldn't be here, and I've been here 30-some years. I met my wife here and raised my family here. It's a great place to raise kids and it's a lovely golf course.''