"I’ve found your ball Jim…but you’re not going to like it…."
I must have read hundreds of golf magazines but after over 30 years struggling with this game, I’ve never yet seen a golf magazine answer one of golf’s most important questions: "What the hell do you do when one of the world’s most dangerous living things is sitting next to your ball?"
Let me explain. I moved out to Australia from the UK a few years ago. Apart from the endless sunshine and a refreshing absence of rules about the length of your socks, golf’s pretty much the same here as back home. It's Aus$5 (two quid in real money) to enter the Sunday morning "swindle" and however strong a gale is blowing, some bandit always manages 40 points.
Just like home, golf starts with a coffee and a bacon and egg roll and usually finishes with a beer. Admittedly, the greens here are pretty good all year round (to be honest they’re beyond your wildest dreams). Mats are only for standing on in the showers!
It’s easy to fit in and I soon found that golfers are the same the world over.
Despite all that, I can honestly say that in 35 years of golf, I have never once felt like my life was in danger while playing a par-4. Until last Sunday, that is, when my mate Jim hit a slightly errant 5-wood off the tee on the tricky 11th hole at my local course near Sydney.
I kept my eye trained on the exact spot Jim’s ball dived into the bushes (it’s a habit I’ve developed as my pal's in his 80s and technically blind) and as we got closer I could clearly see his Titleist at the bottom of the bush, three or four feet off the fairway.
At the last minute, some sixth sense made me take a closer look at the pair of eyes lying next to the ball and staring straight at me.
It was a two-metre long brown snake.
For anyone who hasn’t read "Bill Bryson Down Under" , the Australian brown snake isn’t like your average adder or a viper. Without the usual chevrons or distinctive markings, the brown snake is… just brown and, annoyingly, it prefers dry ground to marshland (which every Australian golfer already knows as ‘lost ball territory’).
But the really bad news is that it’s very, very dangerous. Half of all snake bite deaths are as a result of being bitten by a brown snake. Even worse (can it get worse?), brown snakes are described as being ‘easily angered ‘ - when disturbed by a golf ball, for example.
So there we were. Me, Jim and the brown snake, staring at one another. Jim’s ball sat just out of reach, miles away from paramedics and bottles of anti-venom. In ten years playing golf in Australia, I knew it had to happen – and this was the day.
If we'd had a copy of the Rules of Golf, we could have spent the next few minutes looking up the Decisions relating to: "World’s most deadly snake, ball lying near…" or "coward, penalty for being…"
But we didn’t. We ran.
With complete disregard for the scorecard, Jim and I took one look at the snake and we were off. What started as a hasty shuffle soon turned into a sustained jogtrot. Despite a combined age of well over 100, we were away and over the hill before you could say ‘G’Day!’
I could exaggerate and embellish the story by claiming the snake gave chase (I was once told the alarming story of a golfer in Queensland who climbed onto the roof of his golf cart to get away from one particularly cross brown snake).
But no such drama. We headed straight to the safety of the 12th tee and I can honestly say I have never been so happy to write zero on card in the column ‘points’.
While it’s always nice to have a happy ending, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Jim…with a par he could have had 41 points.
Footnote: According to the Rules of Golf, a live snake is an outside agency, a dead snake is a loose impediment.
Rule 19-1 states: If a ball in motion is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency, it is a rub of the green and there is no penalty and the ball must be played as it lies except:
a) If a ball in motion after a stroke other than on the putting green comes to rest in or on any moving or animate outside agency, the player must through the green or in a hazard, drop the ball as near as possible to the spot where the outside agency was when the ball came to rest in or on it. On the putting green, except for a worm or insect, the ball must be replayed.
So in Jim’s case, once it was decided the snake was unlikely to approach, he could drop another ball, no nearer the hole at the nearest point of relief from the snake, without penalty. By failing to do so he automatically incurred a two-stroke penalty! However, I think most of us would agree, he made the right decision. ED