May 3, 2018

Tales Of Near Death

Despite its tranquil nature, golf can be a contact sport. Here we present stories from readers on the latent dangers of the game—from the self-inflicted to the unforeseen—and advice for playing it safe in 2018
Photo by Hugh Kretschmer

A TRAGIC BOLT FROM THE BLUE
The late summer afternoon at Round Valley Golf Course in Morgan, Utah, began as one of the happiest of Kip VanDyke's life. The teenage golf nut was there for a family reunion, with several of his relatives on the course and others at a picnic area by the clubhouse. When a thunderstorm moved up Weber Canyon, VanDyke and his family members evacuated the course (good idea), some taking refuge under a tree (bad idea) and VanDyke blithely wandering over to the putting green (another bad idea). "A single bolt struck almost from nowhere, the flash and sound simultaneous," VanDyke, now 50 and head pro at Toad's Fun Zone, a driving range, miniature golf course and go-cart track in nearby Ogden. "It took me to my knees. What I saw when I stood up was the most traumatic event of my life." The same bolt that felled VanDyke struck three family members, killing one, seriously burning another and injuring a third. "It changed everything for all of us," he says. "Today, when clouds roll in, my eyes are glued to the Doppler radar screen, and I'm very fast—some say too fast—about getting people off the range. Me, I won't even take a bath when I hear thunder or when it's raining hard. Lightning safety is the first thing every golfer should be taught." — Guy Yocom

Illustration by Tim Lahan

AN ERRANT SHOT, THEN FISTS OF FURY
Darryl Wendland joined two teenage boys for a 2009 round at Strathmore Golf Course in Alberta. An enjoyable day turned spectacular when one of the lads aced a par 3 early in the round. But when the second youth hit a wild drive on a subsequent hole, things took a turn for the worse. The shot caromed off the side of a cart occupied by a twosome, and they were not in a forgiving mood. "We apologized, but one of the guys screamed obscenities and then punched me," Wendland says. His call to the police further enraged the punch-happy twosome. "One of the guys tackled me, and they spent the next several minutes playing kickball with my head," he says. "The police arrived and dive-bombed the guys, and it was satisfying to see the cop's knee grinding the punching man's face into the gravel," he says. But it was little solace to Wendland, who spent the next two days in the hospital, then six weeks at home recuperating from the concussion he received. — Guy Yocom

Illustration by Tim Lahan

GOLFERS PLAYING. PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY
A club in New Jersey was conducting a Monday outing for non-members. Things went smoothly until a group reached a dogleg-right par 4 with ponds on both sides. One guest hit his second shot, then sat in the passenger side of his cart. His playing partner was farther up the fairway, so he decided to move the cart forward. But instead of sliding over to the driver's seat, he leaned over and tried using his left foot and hand to drive. The cart lurched out of control, sped down a slope toward a pond and flipped as it entered the water, submerging the golfer. Luckily, his forecaddie dived in and pulled the golfer out. The man, though shaken, was unhurt. The caddie then reentered the pond and retrieved the two bags. Another cart was summoned, and the golfers finished their round. Afterward, the fortunate guest pulled his soggy wallet from his pocket and tipped the caddie $10. You'd think the rescue of two bags would be worth at least $25. —Ron Whitten

Illustration by Tim Lahan

THE TROUBLE WITH TEMPER
Bryan Mauro signed up as judge for a long-drive competition unaware that, in 1994, a 16-year-old New York boy was killed when he struck a bench with a golf club, causing the shaft to break and pierce his heart. Mauro didn't know that in 2005, a Texas youth died when he fell onto a club that had broken, the shaft damaging his aorta. Why would he know of such things?

Mauro, taking his place between a competitor and his bag, watched as the long-drive specialist hit several poor drives. Angered by the miscues, the competitor wheeled and slammed his club against his bag. The shaft broke, and the piece with the clubhead whipped through the air and caught Mauro just below the eye. "Luckily I got hit with the clubhead rather than the sharp end, or I wouldn't be here to tell about it," he says. "People need to keep their tempers down when it comes to slamming clubs near people." — Guy Yocom

Illustration by Tim Lahan

Illustration by Tim Lahan

FROM TWITTER: NOT-SO-NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES
@ jimtheplumber63 I survived a 4-man scramble, 2 teams per group that had a keg on every tee. 8-hour round

@ rocketfish72 I should get hazard pay for surviving my husband’s cart-driving skills

@ ColbyMcGrath I once hit myself in the ankle with my putter

@ ggggmmpp I almost died when I hit a ball straight

@ sp_parks Broke my leg falling off the ball washer

@ MrMichaelMolloy Gas cart + neutral + steep hill + tree + idiot driver = human flight #Superman

@ JDR1982 I worked on a golf course for 10 years and saw a range of accidents. I once carried an injured lady back in the tractor bucket

@ sheila9419 Nearly died of boredom watching a few minutes of golf on the telly, does that count?

@ SnapNOLA I once was too slow getting the pin out on a pal’s eagle putt, knocking the ball 3 feet left of the cup.

@ MaddieMcCaig That time @darcmccaig took a corner too fast and grandma flew out of the cart


Illustrations by Tim Lahan

SURVIVAL GUIDE ADVICE FOR (ALMOST) ANY GOLF-COURSE EMERGENCY

SLIP IN THE SHOWER
▶ More than once, your pro has remarked on your fine footwork. He should see you now as you lie prostrate on the floor outside the locker-room shower, the victim of a slip-and-fall while rushing to get back to your locker. In 2008, some 234,000 people suffered a mishap in the bathroom, 81 percent of them falls. Not the kind of club you'd care to join.

COURSE OF ACTION: Walk slowly, eyes riveted on your path, staying mindful of tiled floors that might have been cleaned with slippery disinfectant. Be cautious if you've had a couple of drinks. Most of all, avoid any towel-snapping high jinks.

STRUCK BY A GOLF BALL
▶ Becky Harmon of Minnesota recalled the time she took a blow near her temple from a ball struck 200 yards away. A friend told her the ball bounced "cartoon style" off her skull, but there was nothing comical about Harmon losing consciousness or taking eight stitches. In fact, when we solicited our readers for their most harrowing on-course accident tales, getting hit by a ball was by far the most common. What do you do when you're on the ground writhing in pain, the swelling around the impacted area getting larger by the second?

TO TREAT: Get ice and apply immediately. If it's a head shot, get to the hospital and insist that someone else drive. If this can't be done quickly, phone 911. Also, when you hear Fore! face away from the sound and duck, covering your head.

HANGOVER
▶ It might be self-imposed, but that doesn't mean you aren't in need of treatment and a dose of sympathy.

TO TREAT: Tom Weiskopf, who had a few hangovers back in the day, recommends a cheeseburger and milkshake, the former to soak up the remaining alcohol, the latter to coat your stomach. It's actually good advice, but there's a problem: They're hard to find before that early-morning tee time. Go with a pain reliever such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin for the headache, as much water as you can drink to rehydrate, and yelling warnings in the mirror never to overindulge again.

CHOKING
▶ The ravenous chomping of a hot dog. An ill-timed swallow of an energy bar. These can be the makings of one of golf's most stealthy killers. When you see a person clutching or pointing at his throat with a panicked look, act immediately.

First, whack the guy hard between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand, and we mean hard. If the food isn't dislodged after five whacks, move behind the victim, make a fist with one hand, place it above the navel and then cover that clenched fist with your other hand and pull in and up firmly, as though pulling him off his feet—all while shouting for help. Don't insert your hand in his mouth to probe for the food unless you can see and remove it. If there's more than two of you, command a pal to call 911.

HEAT EXHAUSTION
▶ Next to sunburn, heat exhaustion—your body becoming so overheated that leveling mechanisms like sweating don't bring it back to normal—is a common on-course health issue. Phil Mickelson and Michelle Wie have fallen victim, proof it can sneak up on even the most experienced players. If it gets out of hand, with your body temperature reaching 106, your organs can shut down, and you might not live to play another day.

TO TREAT: If you feel any combination of excessive thirst, dizziness, cramping, flushed skin, a fast pulse rate or disorientation, stop playing immediately. Head for shade, drench your head and clothing with cold water and lie down and elevate your legs slightly. The idea is to bring your temperature down immediately. Drink a lot of water, slowly, and call it a day.

NASTY FALLS
▶ Rare is the golfer who hasn't taken a tumble on the course. Slipping on the downslope of a wet teeing ground or damp cartpath, stepping into small holes, and clumsy trips for no discernible reason happen all the time. Kris Snell of Florida told us of losing his footing while climbing out of a bunker, breaking and dislocating his right ankle. It took nine screws, two pins, three days in the hospital and five months of rehab before he got back on the course.

WHAT TO DO: There's an art to falling, one that can be built into your reflexes when you crash to the ground. Keep your arms bent at the elbows, as a stiff-armed fall can lead to a broken wrist. If possible, land on your butt—it's better designed to absorb and disperse impact. Maintain a "soft" body in general, to dampen and spread the trauma of impact. If you're falling on a slope, roll with it so the force isn't so jarring.

GOUGED IN EYE BY TREE BRANCH
▶ Yet another drive soars into the woods. You tromp through the trees, branches bending this way and that as the end of the five-minute search limit for a lost ball draws near. Out of nowhere—zing—one of the small branches rebounds, catching you in the eye.

TO TREAT: You should have worn some type of eyewear and walked gingerly, your head down as you thrashed in search of the ball. But that's no help now. There are many types of eye injuries, but in general, treat by covering the eye and resisting the urge to rub or even touch it. Apply a cold compress very lightly and get to the emergency room.

ARMED ROBBERY
▶ Golf-shop break-ins are one thing, on-course robberies are another. One of the more audacious was a 2015 holdup at The Links at Spanish Bay in which one of the victims fought (unwisely) his two assailants, who were later captured.

WHAT TO DO: Stay still, don't panic and talk only in answer to the robbers' demand. Show clearly you are unarmed, keeping your hands open and in plain sight. Note their age, height and hair and eye color. Most of all, give the guys what they want. Even in the era of $500 drivers, there's nothing you have on you that is worth getting hurt over.

SNAKE BITE
▶ They almost always occur while searching for a lost ball amid desert rocks, or, in more damp climes, woods and swamps. Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, coral snakes—bites from all will be painful at least, deadly at most.

TO TREAT: Note the snake's description. Don't try to suck out the poison; very little poison can be extracted that way. Nor should you use a tourniquet, as it keeps the venom concentrated in one spot and makes it more difficult for the antivenin to do its job. This isn't a Western cowboy movie. Call 911, then notify the clubhouse to have someone rush out to get you.

ALCOHOL POISONING
▶ The catch with extreme alcohol intake is, the one on the intake end is usually too intoxicated to be aware of warning signs. But you should know what it looks like in others, because although your frat days are over, it doesn't mean you won't encounter someone who presents the worst symptoms.

THE SIGNS: The usual from a really intoxicated person include confusion, vomiting, etc. But look for more, particularly if they're passed out. Any combination of slow and irregular breathing, blueish skin and low body temperature means real trouble is here. Call 911 fast. — Guy Yocom

RELATED: The Golfer Who Died And Came Back To Life