Laughter is the best medicine, so they say. Dottie Pepper, at least, was laughing, though nervously so, in the wake of her memorable close encounter of the weird kind.
A decade ago, during the third round of the U.S. Senior Open on the East Course at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., Pepper, in her role as an on-course reporter for NBC, came face to face—close enough, anyway—with a black bear.
“Kid,” NBC’s resident raconteur and comedian Roger Maltbie said during a commercial break when the threat had passed, “you picked the wrong day to wear white.”
The U.S. Senior Open returns to The Broadmoor this week, and though Pepper won’t be there, her story is worth revisiting, given that the black bear was the most memorable part of the championship.
We say this with no disrespect intended for the winner, Eduardo Romero, also known as El Gato, the Cat. Hey, in the food chain, a bear is higher than a cat.
The Broadmoor sits at the base of Cheyenne Mountain (home of NORAD, incidentally), and wildlife abounds—deer, mountain lions, foxes, snakes and, yes, bears.
“We’d been told that they were around,” Pepper said from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Tuesday. “It was discussed in the production meeting and we were kind of told what not to do, like, ‘don’t run.’
“I heard throughout the week they had been making their presence known in the compound. A mom and a couple of her cubs were in the dumpster every morning. We knew that. It was drought conditions, and they were coming further down the mountains to get food.
“Obviously, we know they’re out there. We were hearing while on the air that there was a bear seen over by [hole] No. 11 or 12.”
Pepper, who now is with CBS Sports, wanted more assurance that it was not in her vicinity.
“Guys, tell me again, where’s that bear?” she asked those in the production trailer.
“Oh, don’t worry, Dottie, it’s going in the opposite direction.” The opposite direction of whom?
Pepper was on the left side of the 13th fairway when the bear came charging over a rise and straight toward her.
“I look up, and thank God we were in commercial break,” she said. “Here he comes full tilt, and he’s coming right at me. ‘It’s the bear! It’s the bear!' He has making a dead beat for me.”
She dropped her yardage book and tentatively began to run. “Then I remembered, you’re not supposed to run,” she said.
The bear eventually passed by and then through the fans on the left-hand side of the fairway—“they split like the Red Sea,” she said—and eventually made its way through the West Course and back into the wilderness.
“It scared me, but also made me realize his fur is kind of moving with him. It was so perfectly shiny, sort of like black, but you you didn’t know if it was black, purple or green. It was so big, so fast and so beautiful.
“Everyone else was laughing their tails off, and I had this nervous laugh. Gary [Koch, another NBC broadcaster] said that it could have been really bad. It hit me that night when that clip opened on [ESPN’s] SportsCenter, how big he was. I could have died. It might have seemed funny at the time, but I didn’t sleep well that night.”
Pepper has a photo of the bear closing on her hanging on a wall in her home, as does Bernhard Langer, who was in the 13th fairway and was a nearby witness to the harrowing scene.
Anyone familiar with Pepper’s playing career would likekly recall how fierce a competitor she was. I noted in my story for Golf World that week, “the bear might rue the day were it to have tangled with the famously feisty Pepper.”
Thankfully for Pepper, and the bear, we'll never know.