By Judd Spicer
In the morning dusk of Thursday, August 13th, 2009 on the grounds of Hazeltine National, the most frightened “Goose” won’t be Retief, the most harry presence won’t be Miguel Angel Jimenez, and the loudest growl won’t come from Tiger. Rather, at the onset of the PGA Championship – as with most days at this celebrated track – the biggest bark at Hazeltine will come compliments of a guy named Eddie.
Now, this fella may not know the difference between a hybrid and a hacksaw – but to succeed in his trade, he doesn’t need to. Since 2001 his responsibility at the course has been constant and simple: chase geese. Eddie is the course Border Collie.
“Hazeltine bought him about eight year ago. He comes home with me at night because the course didn’t want a dog running around there all day and night,” explains Hazeltine grounds crew employee Keith Conway, who is Eddie’s owner and handler. “He’s here everyday I work. Sometimes, Eddie and I come back in the evenings when the geese are really flying.”
“The reason we waited to get a dog here is because I didn’t want to get a dog and have him living here at the course,” says Hazeltine Superintendent Jim Nicol, CGCS. “I wanted to get a dog here and have a situation where he could live with a family. I didn’t want a shop dog; I don’t think that’s fair to the dog.”
Border Collies, described by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as “the workaholics of the dog world,” are celebrated for both their “instincts and intelligence,” the AKC boasts. The successful practice of employing dogs at golf courses is long tried and tested as a means of warding geese from either eating course turf, or littering the course with their droppings.
“In both the spring and fall, when the geese are migrating, they really like the ponds and lake here at the course,” Conway explains. “They land in the water and walk up on the land. Basically, when Eddie and I get to work at 5:30 in the morning, I drive us to holes 10 and 16 right away – the lakeshore, that’s where the geese are at.” And that’s when Eddie gets to work.
Regular calls back to the course throughout the golfing day are also part of the gig: “If somebody sees some geese, they’ll call for Eddie and we’ll drive him down to the specific hole,” Conway continues. “They fly away or fly into the water.”
While Eddie’s chasing acumen and instincts are stellar, his golf-related skills are intentionally discouraged. “He’s gone after a golf ball just once,” Conway laughs. “And he jumped in front of somebody’s drive once – I think that cured him of that curiosity. When I first got him, I tried to teach him to stay away from golf balls; I baited him with one I doused with Tabasco sauce. So far, except for those two exceptions, it’s worked.”
A dog’s day is not all work, however. While little, white balls are off-limits, Eddie has myriad other toys to keep him busy during down hours. “He wants to play all the time,” Conway says, before adding with a hint of silent gratitude that Eddie’s worn out enough at day’s end to just relax with the family. “We’ve got balls around the shop for him. If it’s not those, he’s always finding a stick or something to play with.”
And like most beings that engender the grounds of a golf course, he’s got his own set of idiosyncrasies: “He chases the irrigation heads; it’s out-of-control,” Conway chuckles. “That’s really high-pressure. The pipes are kept at 100 PSI; they’re regulated down, but it’s a really big stream of water. And he tries to eat it all the time. We can hear the stream flapping against his fur.”
“Eddie does a very good job. I give him an ‘A.’ He’s very active. We’re lucky,” Nicol adds. “He’s a really good dog – well tempered. Generally, dogs of his breed get a little snippy as they get older, but he’s not too bad.”
And like all of the Super’s staff, Eddie isn’t immune to a little ribbing: “He cleans up his own mess,” Nicol wryly concludes. He goes where he’s supposed to go – in the high weeds. He takes care of his own stuff. He’s probably better at that than the rest of the crew.”