Golfers at three courses in southern Maine who have witnessed their golf balls being swiped off the greens by 4-legged thieves are well aware of the rule that no penalty is assessed when a ball at rest is moved by “an outside agency.”
It’s widely understood by golfers here that there’s no need to add a stroke to the scorecard when the offending culprit is a fox or coyote.
Dozens of incidents involving ball-stealing critters have been reported at courses in the region during the past year.
The most credible theory to explain the unusual behavior is that the bouncing ball and its resemblance to an egg triggers a wild canine’s animal instinct to pounce and grab.
The Kennebec Journal reports that last week Tom MacDowell and Bill Fogel were playing a round at Portland’s Riverside Golf Course as they watched MacDowell’s ball fall just short of the 14th green. A coyote immediately shot out of a nearby wooded area, scooped up the ball in its mouth and trotted back to the trees.
“Maybe he collects Nike golf balls,” MacDowell opined.
The newspaper reports that foxes have become as much of a hazard as the ponds and sandtraps at the Highland Green Adult Resort Community and Golf Course in Topsham for the past several years.
Highland Green resident Lyn Adams said she found a cache of balls near a fox den while walking with her husband in the woods near the course.
“There were 30 balls buried, covered with leaves and dirt,” she said.
While their antics and ball thievery can be somewhat of a nuisance to golfers, course officials have nothing but kind words to say about the ball-hunting inhabitants of the woods and rough. That’s because in addition to pilfering Titleists during the day, the foxes and coyotes are also keeping the groundhog, mole and vole population in check.
And for groundskeepers striving to maintain smooth greens and hole-free fairways, that’s a good thing.