7 of Golf’s Most Unusual On-Course Animal Encounters

There’s been a new hazard for golfers to look out for at North Palm Beach Country Club in South Florida: an American crocodile.

While alligators are a fairly common sight at Florida golf courses, crossing paths with the reclusive crocodile is far more of a rarity. There are an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 in the state, mostly in the Everglades or coastal areas, but they’re occasionally encountered inland due to Florida’s extensive canal system. Because the American crocodile is considered endangered—Florida is the only U.S. state in which they’re native—federal laws prohibit the 7- to 8-foot visitor to North Palm Beach CC from being removed or relocated. Golfers at the public course are given ample warning about the croc, both from staff and signage, especially when it comes to considering a search for that wayward Titleist around ponds.

The crocodile curiosity in Palm Beach got me to thinking about some of the unique animals I’ve encountered on the golf course. I recently trailed a porcupine at Bandon Dunes in Oregon, spotted a herd of buffalo at, fittingly, Buffalo Ridge at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri, and spied a large Irish hare at Waterville Golf Links in Ireland. I’ve seen gators, bald eagles, foxes, coyotes, iguanas, snapping turtles, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, fox squirrels, mongooses, and more. During a visit to Crystal Springs in my home state of New Jersey, I once saw black bears on the resort’s Wild Turkey course and wild turkeys on its Black Bear course.

So, what are some of your most unusual animal encounters on the golf course? As a starting point, here are six other special golf wildlife sightings.

Lions

Situated on the outskirts of Skukuza Rest Camp at Kruger National Park in South Africa is one of the most unique golf courses in the world. The 9-hole (18-tee) Skukuza Golf Club was originally built in the early 1970s as a recreational facility for the Skukuza personnel, but today is open to park visitors. Because it’s not fenced in, the course can be a one-of-a-kind golf experience, with occasional spectators that include lions, hyena, hippos, impala, and warthogs.

Kangaroos

Some may regard these marsupials to be the Australian equivalent of deer in the U.S., but they can make for a memorable experience for globetrotters who travel to the “Land Down Under” to partake in Australia’s top participation sport. It can be equally unforgettable for locals, such as a recent occurrence in which a mob of kangaroos came running up just as an amateur golfer was preparing to take her tee shot. Talk about an intimidating gallery.

Capybara

When golf returned to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro after a 112-year absence, the golf course that Gil Hanse built specifically for the Games got a lot of attention. So too did one of the facility’s residents: the dog-sized capybara, which is the world’s largest rodent and can weigh as much as 150 pounds. A host of pros took pictures of the varmints, which proved more popular than some of the course’s other residents, such as a ground-nesting owl, caimans, boa constrictors, and three-toed sloths.

Baboons

Pazula Golf Course in South Africa has views of both the Knysna Lagoon and Indian Ocean. It also has a team of “baboon monitors” that’s always on hand to manage the troop of baboons that makes frequent visits to many of the holes. It wasn’t too long ago that former World No. 1 Luke Donald was part of a viral video at the Nedbank Golf Challenge elsewhere in South Africa when a baboon ran toward him on the 13th fairway, then strolled past as a surprised Donald tried to regain his composure.

Giraffes

Two hours north of Johannesburg, Zebula Golf Estate & Spa bills itself as a unique lifestyle destination. Cruising fairways with giraffes would certainly qualify. Not only bigger than lions or baboons, it’s probably safe to say the long-necked giraffe would have an unmatched advantage in any crowded gallery. But having no ropes to hold back these fans just makes this experience better.

Spider Monkeys

At the PGA Tour’s only stop in Mexico, the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, monkeys and macaws are among the regulars. Indeed, it’s the spider monkeys who have become an increasingly visible presence at the Greg Norman-designed El Camaleón Golf Course given its rainforest location beside the Caribbean Sea. A few years ago, one primate seemingly (and memorably) sauntered out to the fairway and stared down golfers behind him as if someone had driven into his group.

 

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