Monday, 15 July 2024

The HVL greenskeeper's tale

 

The war on the ground has been fought against wild boar and feral pigs and has been pretty well won ... for now. But not before the pigs, in their infinite lust for grubs, had done as much damage to the golf course turf as cannons can do. And not until more than one "hired gun" – the writer's term for them, not Coulter's – was called in.


The war from the air, however, continues and is perpetual. It is being carried on by the six or seven dozen geese that have settled at the HVL course. The geese unload their "bombs" – droppings, we'll call them – at the rate of one pound per goose per day.


Figure 60 geese hang out at HVL six months on average. At the rate of 180 pounds a month, that's half a ton of goose droppings a year. And that's no bullsh ... uh, dropping.


Over the years, Coulter says 24 pigs have been killed in campaigns to keep them off the golf course. This year, "they probably tore up 50,000 square feet of area," he adds as he shows a visitor a badly ravaged sixth fairway where virtually all the damage was done.


Coulter, who became greens superintendent at HVL in 1998 and has worked at the course since 1991, recalls similar attacks by the pigs in '93, '95, '96, '98 and 2001.


The pigs, which come across Highway 29 that borders HVL's sixth hole, have retreated in each case as soon as one of them is shot and killed.


"Four pigs were shot at one time in 1995 and taken off," he says. "In 2001, a certified hunter was able to shoot one in four days."


But the most recent invasion in autumn of the year just past was altogether a different matter. The problem, as Coulter explains it, is that the pigs keep getting smarter. And they're pretty darn smart to begin with.


"They're very wise," he said. "A lot of people compare them to humans. They can tell right from wrong and they learn. They teach their young what to avoid. It's very interesting how they work."


Many of the older pigs were battle-scarred as well. In what amounted to autopsies, buckshot doubtlessly fired from a disgruntled south county homeowner's shotgun has been found.


The terms of a county-issued depredation permit, Coulter says, allows shooting a wild pig if it is damaging your property.


"We go with a certified licensed hunter contracted with the state Fish & Game Dept.," he continues, "and we had him out here staking out the area the night of the day the first damage was done. He would come to the course at 10 o'clock and stay throughout the night waiting for the pigs to show up."


... And waiting, and waiting.


In the past, Coulter said, a huntsman took out a couple of the beasts in a week or two "and the situation was over and done with."


But "this year it was tough,” he added. "We tried everything. Different nights, different hours, but the pigs would be there right before us or right after us. He would wait until three in the morning and they would show up right after he left. It was one of those unbelievable situations.


"We'd get the damage repaired and then figure it's OK for a while, but then a couple of days later they'd chew up another 5,000 feet of sod. And they'd really rip up the ground. We have to bring in a backhoe to flatten everything out, bring in soil, feed it, cover it and baby it back to normal condition."


The pigs outlasted the county permit to shoot them, which expired on Oct. 31. So, another expert had to be called in. This one, a trapper from the Fish & Game Department.


"Within a week's time the guy was able to track their running pattern – when they were coming down to the valley and when they were staying up on the hill across the road," said Coulter.


"On the 17th of November he was able to finally catch two pigs – a 230-pound sow and a 250-pound boar – on the golf course, chase them off to the side of the road and shoot them. We haven’t had an incident since then. When they hear a gunshot, they don't come around anymore."


This year, the cost of repairing the distressed turf caused by the pigs was in the neighborhood of $4,000. Over the years it's been about $20,000, Coulter said.


And maybe that will be the end of it. Highway 29 – where before the rains blood spots all the way up to Twin Pine casino marked the places eight or 10 pigs became porcine traffic fatalities – is getting busier and ever more perilous for them to cross. A culvert they may have used to invade the golf course has been closed off to them and pig wire has been stretched along the No. 6 fairway boundary.


The geese? Well, they're pretty smart, too. Smart enough to make themselves scarce when they see Coulter's pickup truck.


"They know that I'm out of here at four o'clock," he says, "and it's funny because I'll drive toward town and look over and see 60 to 70 geese."


The only weapons the HVL greenskeeping crew have to use against the messy honkers are curious wooden cutouts of dogs, intended to scare them off.


"You have to move them around and use your dog periodically, or the geese will fly in and land on them," says Rich Wilson, whose Pacific Grove-based business specializes in keeping unwanted birds off golf courses, college campuses, cemeteries and the like.

Coulter adheres to that.


"My dog, a border collie and fox terrier mix, goes after them," he says. "He loves chasing them and harassing them. But they're smart and they know he'll never catch any of them and he knows it, too.


"But if you keep them agitated and harassed they'll start to go to some other places."


Well, at least the pig problem at the Hidden Valley Lake course is over.


... Isn't it?


E-mail John Lindblom at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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