Collision On Number Eight

By: Bob Spiwak

I could tell you in a paragraph how I had a head-on collision with myself in two of my vehicles. However, as I am being paid by the word for this epic, I will milk it for a while.

The acci-incident occurred when I was building Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf and Flubbers Club on my vast five-acre estate near Mazama, Wash. Unlike the general perception of Washington’s rain and gloom, we are located on the east slopes of the Cascade Mountains and on the edge of the desert. I have witnessed temperature extremes from 32-below zero to 108 above, as well as up to seven feet of snow in the winter.

In the mid-1980s I decided to build a pitch-and-putt course to accompany the practice green I had built a decade before. It was carefully laid out, and there were 750 feet of streams and small ponds. Pre-dating the Audubon golf course sanctuary program, I had established that this would be a “natural” golf course. The fairways would be narrow and surrounded by native trees, shrubs, and grasses. Our property hosts deer, bear, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, owls, herons, many song birds, golden and bald eagles, squirrels, chipmunks, ermine, martens, frogs, toads, garter snakes, rubber boas, blue racers, bull snakes and, yes, rattlesnakes.

No fungicides were employed and the only chemical substances were biannual fertilizing.

It was around this time that Pete Dye built the first island green at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla. I felt we should have one as well. To that end, I enlarged a pond and filled a swamp with material that created a green about 60 by 40 feet in size. The putting surface was 40 feet by 20 feet, fronted by a large sand bunker at the edge of the pond. The pond divided here and water circled the green, which was thus elevated.

I should add at this time that aside from excavation and shaping, this was a one-man, low-budget job. I hauled sand for the greens in a two-wheel-drive, ¾-ton pickup with air shocks and 12-leaf overload springs. (These stats will become important, bear with me.)

Once the island was ready for the putting surface, I hauled the first load of sand to it. It was over a yard of material and very heavy, enough to compress the suspension in the rear of the truck. I backed the rig up the green’s incline and shoveled out the load. Ready to pick up another load at the cement plant, I departed. Without a load to compress the springs, that truck had zero traction and I got stuck in the small creek. The more I tried, the deeper the tires sank into the muck.

But I had a brainstorm. Among my vehicles was a ’64 Scout, a Jeep-like four-wheel-drive vehicle with a snowplow blade attached in front. I figured I could pull the pickup out with the Scout. It did not work.

I was ready to call a tow truck when another burst of inspiration hit. The truck had an automatic transmission, and if I put it in “low” and then pulled with the Scout, it would clear the stream and I would escape. I hooked up a 20-foot tow chain to both vehicles, returned to the Scout, put it in reverse and even with the truck tires spinning, it would not budge. Frustrated now, I floored the accelerator of the Scout. In a flash, it shot backward, bringing the truck not only out of the stream, but onto solid ground and gaining on me. I had the briefest instant to raise the snowplow blade before the truck crashed into me. I shut down the Scout, shifted into low gear, bailed out and raced to the truck, pulling the lever to neutral then turning it off.

Back to the Scout, I backed up from its embrace with the Chevrolet and surveyed the damage. The truck bumper was rather bent and devoid of paint in several places, and the snowplow mount was going to require some spot welding.

I was unhurt, other than emotionally upset. I thought of Roberto di Vincenzo’s famous remark after he had signed the wrong score at the Masters: “I am such a stupid.”

Stupid, maybe, but smart enough not to report the accident to my insurance company.

Bob Spiwak took up golf in 1953 as a respite from the rigors of selling bibles door-to-door in North Dakota. Though suffering a four-year lapse, he’s back to being a fanatical golfer. Spiwak has written articles for almost every golf magazine in the Western world. Bob’s most treasured golf antiquity is a nod he got from Gerald Ford at the 1990 Golf Summit. Spiwak lives in Mazama, Wash., with his wife and several pets next to his fabled ultraprivate Whispering Rattlesnakes Golf & Flubbers Club.