NBC News came calling. Then Good Morning America and Fox News and the BBC, and before William and Nancy Nobbe knew what was happening, they were being bombarded by media from New York to New Zealand, and the weird thing was that all these reporters missed the story while chasing the news.
"The media has been driving us crazy," Nancy said, laughing in a way that failed to hide her bewilderment.
In the simplest terms, the Nobbes found themselves sitting on the most unusual 19th hole. Yes, that was the story, the thing that caused the reporters and cameramen and TV networks to descend on the tiny town of Waterloo, Ill., where Lewis and Clark passed through on their expedition to the northwest. And so the media passed through this week. But did anyone ever stay long enough to ask Nancy about the hole in her heart, the one that never goes away?
Maybe in some odd way this was supposed to happen to them. Maybe after 20 years there needs to be an excuse to tell the story of a golf course that brings immeasurable joy to a family even as it never lets them shake free of the anguish over their most profound loss.
Last Friday, AnnBriar Golf Course in Waterloo, Ill.
, about 25 miles southeast of St. Louis, made international news when one of its patrons, a man named Mike Mihal, was swallowed by a sinkhole on the 14th fairway
. Mihal, 43, a mortgage broker from suburban St. Louis, dislocated his shoulder when he plunged 18 feet down the hole, but he was quickly rescued with the help of one of his friends, Ed Magaletta, and the Nobbe's son, Russ, the club's general manager.
"How can you explain it except that it was a freak thing, a freak of nature," Russ said.
Sam Panno, a geochemist with the Illinois State Geological Survey, told the Associated Press that the region of southwestern Illinois has perhaps as many as 15,000 sinkholes. Of course, no one had ever stumbled into one on a golf course.
"It's such a fluke occurrence. You might get five holes-in-one before you ever fall into another sinkhole anywhere in the United States," said Columbus, Ohio, golf course architect Mike Hurdzan, who designed AnnBriar with his former partner Dana Fry. "But probably after what happened in Florida I suppose there's a fascination with sinkholes."
Indeed, perhaps the timing of the story added to its sensationalism. On February 28, a Florida man was swallowed by a sinkhole near Tampa. His body was never recovered.
"If the sinkhole story in Florida doesn't happen, that poor man being lost, I don't think what happened here goes beyond the local media," William said. "Now all of a sudden, the whole world is calling us."