Sunridge Canyon Golf Course in Fountain Hills, Arizona is a unique golf course built inside a sloping canyon. The golf course construction was nearing completion but the animals that had always lived there were still around and appeared frequently.
I vividly remember the morning in 1995 when I headed out to the course in the early morning darkness, and drove up to a line of employees in work carts who were stopped on the cart path. I parked alongside them and asked, “Why are you here instead of working?”
“See there?” Nicasio said as he pointed ahead.
“No, I can’t see. Turn on your lights for me.”
Nicasio turned his lights on and pointed to a mauve and green colored rattlesnake coiled on top of a short wall beside the cart path.
“It’s a bad one,” Nicasio said, “we don’t get any closer.”
I recognized the snake as a Mojave rattlesnake, and yes it is very dangerous. It has the reputation of being aggressive towards humans. (I once had a Mojave rattlesnake chase me in my jeep) Even though all rattle snake species are venomous, this species is particularly dangerous to humans. The Mojave rattlesnake has the most potent venom of any rattlesnake in North America. “Mojave toxin” is much different from most rattlesnake venoms in that it is highly neurotoxic, affecting the respiratory and nervous systems of the bite victim within minutes. Not only is their venom about 16 times more toxic than other pit vipers, the venom can stay in a person’s system for weeks or months. It’s the worst possible snake to have near people on a golf course. I wanted a wizard to make it disappear, because I would be looking for this snake every time I’m on this part of the golf course.
We had to evacuate, so I told everyone to turn around and follow the street beside us to the clubhouse. From there they could safely get onto the golf course to work.
While the snake experience was frightening, another experience on hole #2 was infuriating, frustrating and depressing. I didn’t think it could happen — animals walking on our newly seeded greens – especially since we had enclosed each green with firmly staked snow fence. They would need to be high jumpers to get inside.
But, when I came upon the 2nd green there was a rabbit inside the fence. No sooner had I seen him than a coyote ripped through a seam in the fence and started to chase the rabbit. And they’re doing this on new sand greens where the baby bentgrass had only started to germinate the last two or three days.
Well, the chase was on and sand and grass flew into the air as they ran in circles. The coyote’s turns were similar to what you see when motorcycles lean around corners, and his feet threw grass and sand everywhere but where it was supposed to be. The whole scene was like a cartoon staring Wiley Coyote wanting to capture Rowdy Rabbit for dinner.
It made me so mad! We’d done all we could to protect the greens, and then this happened. And, what’s worse? I’m responsible for repairing damage on the greens. I have no idea how to repair this mess. It’s too late to reseed the green, and I can’t think of a way to ensure even coverage of the grass. These two have just ruined the green, and they’re still trapped inside the fence.
I was so frustrated! I took a pair of pliers up to the fence to cut the ties to open it up. I wasn’t worried about the coyote biting me because I was so mad at him I was ready to bite him first! So, like an usher, I held the fence open and waited for the rabbit and coyote to leave. It took a while before they realized they could get out.
Before I closed the fence I observed the damage they’d done and felt sick. I had no idea how we were going to repair the damage.
Miraculously the grass recovered and we opened the golf course in pristine condition. There was only one small problem, mud hens. Solid black ducks that flock by the hundreds and poop on every place you’d find attractive for a picnic. They are a serious pest.
Let me share a story about how we got rid of the mud hens at the Sunridge Canyon golf course pond. You see, the famous fountain lake in Fountain Hills, Arizona is covered with hundreds and hundreds of small black ducks called mud hens. They are a real problem, but weren’t much of a problem for us until we finished the golf course. Then one mud hen visited our pond. A few days later another mud hen joined him on the pond. Ron, our superintendent, could see the handwriting on the wall – more and more mud hens would join them. We had to get rid of the ducks now. But how?
We actually had a meeting about “how to get rid of the mud hens. There were many suggestions. One was to go into the pump station with a rifle and shoot the ducks through the pump station window. While it would work, it didn’t seem appropriate since the children’s park was just across the street. And we wouldn’t look good in the local newspaper as “killers!”
Personally, I preferred a remote control boat to chase them off the pond whenever they showed up. Although I thought it would be fun, no one supported that idea. And, quite honestly there weren’t any more solid ideas. As we adjourned, Mike, our mechanic, told Ron, “Tell you what. Give me two days and those mud hens will be gone.”
“How are you going to do that?” Ron asked.
“You don’t want to know. They’ll just be gone.”
Ron bit his tongue and said no more, and sure enough two days later the mud hens were gone and never came back. Now Ron couldn’t live without knowing what Mike had done to eliminate the mud hens. He sure didn’t want it to be illegal and get him in trouble. So he badgered Mike for more than a week before Mike gave in and told him what he had done.
“Really, Ron, it was quite harmless. The first day I bought a fifth of whiskey and a loaf of bread and soaked the bread in whiskey. Then my son and I tossed bits of bread on the edge of the pond where the mud hens sleep. Early the second day I collected the drunken mud hens in a burlap bag and drove down to the fountain lake. There I rolled the little drunks out of the bag right next to their old buddies. I’m thinkin’ they probably felt right at home when they sobered up. Don’t you?”
Early one morning I got a radio call from my boss. “Don,” he said, “Do you have your green repair tools with you?”
“I do. What do you need?”
“Come over here to number 4 green. I’ve got something I need you to repair.”
Enthusiastic, since I enjoy working on greens, I hurried across the golf course to hole number 4. When I saw it I immediately knew he hadn’t lied, but he didn’t tell the truth either. The something he wanted me to repair was approximately 400 hoof prints that deer made overnight. 400! There was hardly an area on the green where I could place a golf ball on undamaged grass.
I spent eight hours on my hands and knees lifting grass and roots, putting sand into the voids, then stitching the grass together to repair each hoof print. All the while I wondered what we could do to prevent this from happening again. The next day, as soon as the Arizona Game and Fish department opened, I was on the phone with a ranger.
“Hahaha! What you have there is a deer trail, and you put a putting green right in the middle of it,” He said.
“Well, since I can’t move the green, how can I get rid of the deer?” I asked.
“Tiger dung will do it. They won’t go near the smell of a predator.”
“Too bad golfers won’t go near it either. Is there any other option?”
“Well, there are sprays, but they are probably too smelly for golfers too,” he said.
“Listen,” I said, “Deer don’t like car headlights, right? Why is that?”
“Oh, now there’s an idea,” he said, “do you have any electricity by this putting green?”
“I’m pretty sure I do. The irrigation clocks are all wired, and I might be able to use them.”
“Okay,” he said, “here’s what you need to do. Set up enough flood lights to cover the green every night for two weeks. It has to be covered 100% with light or this won’t work. If your putting green is in the light, the deer will avoid the light. They’ll be forced to find a way around the green, perhaps changing the location of their trail.”
The most irritating thing about taking the initiative to solve a problem is I become the person who gets up a half hour earlier in the morning to remove the flood lights ahead of golfers, and then I stay in the evening until the last golfer has passed played the hole, so I can set up the flood lights for the night.
Put up the lights.
Take down the lights.
Seven days a week for two long weeks I lit this putting green hoping the lights worked well enough to divert the deer trail away from the green.
During the first few mornings I could see where the deer had nuzzled my flood light stands and nibbled on grass at the very edge of the green. At the end of the first week I didn’t see these signs any more. I continued every day for the second week, and saw no hoof prints on the green or the surrounds. My boss thought we were ready to go one night without the lights. The next morning we saw no damage. We tried two nights, without damage, and felt confident the deer run was changed and we could put the flood lights away.
About three weeks later my boss called me on the radio. “Do you have your green repair tools with you?”
“I do. What do you need?”
“Come over here to number 4 green.”
“That’s what you said when the deer ruined the green. Is this a joke?”
“No, I want you to see this.”
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
My stomach churned and my mind tried to deny what I saw. This type of wild animal drove a Jeep onto the green and did a donut before spinning the wheels on his way out into the wilderness. It took me days to repair it.