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Golf Ball Bandits

Working at the Country Club in La Crosse was always fun, and there was always a story. It was an old club, formed in 1900 and remained so until 1994 when they moved to a new facility. The property was sold to the city of La Crosse in 1913 to avoid paying taxes to the Town of Campbell. La Crosse hadn’t grown to the club’s location yet, but it would in time. The Town of Campbell wanted to start taxing the club, but when they sold it to the city for a dollar they couldn’t tax La Crosse city property. They made sure they had a cozy lease lasting decades.

It was a very affordable club, so much so, that public school teachers and seniors living off social security could afford to belong. Sure we had a few millionaires and a billionaire, but it was mostly regular folks. A few members would come in during the late fall and tell us how they played enough golf to get their per-round averages down to three dollars or less.

One thing absent from the course property was an adequate driving range. Sure, some members kept a shag-bag and would hit short shots in a few areas, then walk out and pick them up. A few others would hire caddies to wear helmets and stand out as a target, and pick up golf balls as they landed.

An aggressive board of directors hatched a plan, to sell lifetime range memberships to finance a new driving range for the club. Once built those with lifetime range memberships had unlimited use of the new range. This led to abuses by some people who always wanted to hit beyond the hours of the range. That problem was eliminated by automated sprinkler timing on the tee-box a few minutes after the range closed.

The new range was on a high set tee-box, and balls were hit over railroad tracks. We had a few problems with members hitting balls at the trains. It didn’t take long before we had a US Marshal stop at the golf shop to explain how fast he could shut down, not just the range, but the whole golf course. My dad, the club pro, vowed to work with the railroad cop.

Well, one day our Starter and Ranger, Don was watching a couple guys tee off old hole #18 when he noticed a bunch of balls on the green behind him. The balls weren’t there minutes earlier. He saw more balls landing on the green as he watched. A train was going by, and when it passed he saw kids throwing balls from a hill and onto the green. Don was in a standoff with the kids, because he knew they would run, and they were techically on private property.

A couple golfers came up to the shop to tell me about the situation. I took off in a cart with a range basket to pick the balls up, and I was in a bad mood. I got there to be greeted by Don, and the kids yelling at him. I walked up to the kids and said,

“Pick these golf balls up right now, and put them in this basket!”


They refused and started egging me on. I picked the leader and slammed the range basket into his round fat belly with force and said,

 

“If you and your little pals don’t pick these balls up now, your family is going to be picking up pieces of you when I’m finished!”


The kids quickly picked up the balls. I collected names. I told them,

 

“Don’t steal my range balls again, or I’ll beat your ass next time.”


Don and I returned to the pro shop happy we prevailed over the situation. As I get back, my dad walks out. He had just gotten off the phone with the ringleaders older brother. It turns out the ringleader of the kids was the son of a member, and the guy who owned a local car dealership. The father called his eldest son, who ran the dealership, to explain the situation. That son, the older brother, called my dad to apologize profusely. My parents had purchased 2 new cars from them, and I purchased a used car from them the previous winter. It all worked out.

Having the railroad run through the club always brought weirdoes who thought they could trespass at will. We’d threaten to call the cops and press charges, though we never did. The club didn’t want a bad reputation in the city, since they were only lessees to city property.

Another episode some idiot kid started running his motorbike along the tracks and around the course. Members usually didn’t mind, they would however, start hitting balls at them, since they aren’t allowed hit balls at the trains any longer. It was up to me to go save this jerkoff’s hide. I took a cart and headed out after him. When I arrived the idiot wouldn’t stop, he just runs circles around me – taunting me. So, I drove full speed right at him, until I hit his front tire. I hit him at an angle, and swept the front wheel of his bike out from underneath him. Both he and the bike lie on the ground.

Obviously he was pissed, but I explained to him how lucky he really was. I was there to save him. His other alternatives were a golf ball to his head, or my dad calling the authorities. I was actually there to give him a way out, mostly because I didn’t want the paperwork I’d have to fill out when the hearse hauls his carcass away.

I ordered him to walk his bike along the cart path, up the hill, and through the club parking lot to the city streets and sidewalks. He explained to me that he didn’t have a license, and his bike wasn’t street legal. To which I replied,

“Guess when you should have thought of that before you road it on the course!”


On my way back I discovered the club’s board president watched the whole thing. He thought I went a bit overboard when I ran him over, especially since the kid on the bike was a minor! I said I’d try to moderate my actions going forward.

One of my favorite range ball stories was the kids stealing balls along the tracks. Once again Don saw them, and alerted me. We raced after them, but they had hidden most of the balls and were being very uncooperative. The used potty language, and Don and I were getting nowhere.

What we didn’t know at this point was my dad and his assistant Jim could see the whole thing unfolding from their perch. They jumped into his pickup and drove to where the Boy Scout and Girl Scouts had their headquarters in La Crosse. Their lots were near the older part of the course that the kids had used to gain access. The only thing that separated the scout HQ's and country club grounds was the railroad tracks. The kids had left their bike near the scout buildings prior to the golf ball scavenge. My dad and Jim threw their bikes in the pickup, brought them back to the shop, and hid them in the cart room.

Don and I came back with our heads hanging low for our failure and getting all the balls back. The damn kids weren’t forthcoming with information, so we had hit a roadblock and gave up. My dad and his assistant told us of their trickery while we had them confronted. Game on!

The kids showed up asking for their bikes. They knew it was us, because my dad left a message with an adult near one of the scouting offices. We refused to even talk with them without their parents.

Later the kids return, with angry fathers. They demanded their bikes back. My dad said they’d get their bikes back, when he gets all of his golf balls back. The kids forgot to tell that part of the story to their dads. When we told them the story, the parents couldn’t believe their precious snowflakes could possible steal golf balls. One father, standing tall like he actually was someone says;

 

"I'm about to bring the police in on this, are you ready to be charged with theft of children's bikes."

 

My dad’s reply as he offers the phone,

 

“You can use my phone to call them, but they are not going to do anything about it, in fact they can’t.”

It turned out one of the fathers had already called the police before he his own house left to see us at the shop. A local cop arrived, and was greeted on a first name basis by my dad, somewhat deflating the father's ego. The cop takes his time and collects information. The cop tells my dad, that under no circumstances can he take the kids property, and keep it from them for any reason, and that he has to return the property immediately or be charged with theft.

This is when my dad explained the bikes where right next to the tracks when he took them, and that as a local La Crosse police officer he had no jurisdiction. The cop thought about it and began to nod in understanding. The fathers of the boys were about to explode as my dad explained it for everyone,

“You see, the railroad has complete and total jurisdiction fifty feet either side of the tracks. Railroads and their property are governed by federal law, in this case under the jurisdiction of the US Marshall’s office. This is out of the hands of the La Crosse police.”


The livid father demand justice, so my dad offers to call the railroad, as he pulls out the business card of a railroad cop. The La Crosse cop says he can do nothing legally, but will stick around to mediate and make sure nothing gets out of control. My dad threatens to call the US Marshall’s for trespassing, unless he gets everything he wants. Because of the La Crosse cop, we now have all the names and addresses of the violators and their parents names as well.

 

My dad says,

 

“Shall we call now?”

 

My dad already had a good understanding with the Railroad cops, because he overseas the range, and worked with the railroad cop, to get members to stop hitting golf balls at trains. The call was made, and he asked for the railroad cop that he knew, the whole call was on speakerphone so everyone could hear.

 

He explained the situation and the railroad cop explained,

 

“I’d really consider giving Dick [my dad] ALL of the golf balls back, and anything else he wants, right now. You really want to make this issue go away. I’m having a bad day, and if I have to come all the way down there for something this trivial I’m writing tickets, and none of them to Dick!”


After he was sure everybody understood, including the cop the Marshall said,

 

“Hey, Dick, I’m busy as heck today, so I’m going to let you go. If you need me to show up with my ticket book and a fresh pen, just call back, otherwise resolve this on your own. Good luck.”


The kids finally surrender their secret gold ball location, and explained to their fathers they did indeed take a large amount of golf balls and hid them in the woods. Don and the boys quickly retrieved all of the golf balls. My dad got the apology he asked for, and the promise the kids would never set foot on property again without his express permission.

When the kids got their bikes back the fathers apologized for the kids’ behavior and thanked my dad for the lesson he taught the boys and the legal lesson he taught them. Years later one of the kids stopped by and asked my dad for a caddy job. He was hired.

Don’t piss off your local golf pro!
 
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