Dawn is lighting the dewy flanks of Old Town Club’s second tee when Pete the dog takes off for his first morning romp, blazing over a fairway rise to where maintenance crews are already mowing greens and raking bunkers.
“This is one of Pete’s favorite tricks,” says Bryant Evans, 34, Director of Agronomy at Old Town, a Perry Maxwell gem in northwest Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “It’s all a big game for Pete, designed to try and make us chase him. Give him a minute, he’ll be back with something he’s swiped from the staff. I promise you.”
Sure enough, seconds later, Pete bounds back carrying a crew member’s fluorescent yellow glove in his mouth, making a pair of joyful loops around the boss’ cart as if daring him to give chase.
“Okay, Pete,” Evans calls out. “Time to go to work. Load up.”
The young Australian shepherd responds by dropping the glove and leaping into the passenger seat of Evan’s maintenance cart, flopping down beside his master to slurp from a pint glass of water attached to the floor.
“This probably wouldn’t have been possible six months ago,” Evans allows with a chuckle. “But Pete’s a quick learner, probably smarter than his owner. We’re really both still learning. He’s come a long way since November when we had to chase him. Remember that?”
Who could forget it? On an equally golden morning the previous November, as crews were prepping Old Town for one of the final tournaments of the season, Pete was a white blur rocketing around the golf course, blissfully oblivious to his master’s commands, at one point stealing a staffer’s radio from his cart and leading two assistants on a merry chase over the course that took almost half an hour to play out.
But time and patience – and no small amount of training with tasty snacks – have begun to pay dividends for Pete and Bryant, a pair of working pals following a storied tradition that dates from a time when greenskeepers realized that herding dogs made ideal companions and superb protectors of the turf.
Dogs on golf courses, of course, have been a valued tradition in the United Kingdom since the days of the feathery ball. It’s the rare British club today that doesn’t have a superintendent dog or two somewhere on the premises or at least a dog-friendly policy that permits members to bring their well-mannered pooches to the club for social interaction. Many even allow dogs to accompany their owners on the course.
“In many instances, our golf dogs are better behaved – and significantly more knowledgeable about the game – than many of our members,” Charles Churchill, longtime president of Westward Ho! Golf Club [Royal North Devon], wryly quipped some years ago to this reporter during a round with his regular companions on the links, a pair of beloved labs (one black, one white) named “Mashie” and “Niblick.”
Welcome evidence of this growing phenomenon in America revealed itself in 2011 when the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America rolled out its first “Dog Days of Golf” calendar featuring a dozen or so photogenic “Super Dogs” that instantly struck gold with GCSAA members and golfers across America.
“We originally thought it was just a nice way to honor the unique working relationship superintendents enjoy with their dogs,” says Scott Hollister, editor-in-chief of Golf Course Management. “We were pleasantly surprised by the reaction. To say the least, it took off like gangbusters.”
A decade later, now sponsored by Lebanon Turf, the GCSAA’s annual calendar project annually attracts anywhere from 200 to 500 photographic submissions from superintendents and club members eager to see their super dogs nationally spotlighted. Only 15 to 20 lucky dogs – ranging from purebreds to rescued mutts – make the coveted pages of the calendar each edition.
Four years ago, sensing a super dog renaissance, Rain Bird launched its own golf dog calendar called the “Underdogs of Turf,” partnering one year later with Golfdom Magazine to send out 500 copies to subscribers. This December, with John Deere as a joint sponsor, more than 25,000 underdog calendars will go out to Golfdom subscribers, featuring more than 100 different poster pooches.
“We try to recognize as many golf course dogs as possible because they’re such a beloved part of life at many American golf clubs,” says editor Seth Jones. “A superintendent’s job is very stressful, work that starts early and ends late. These dogs are their companions and comfort dogs – not to mention ambassadors with members and their guests. They grab the hearts of everyone.”
Every golf-dog story is unique.
Consider the tale of a super dog named “Hogan,” a 3-month-old black lab that director of golf John Marino brought to work not long after Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, North Carolina, opened for play in 2007.
“My wife, Jill, and I had just gotten him and I brought Hogan to work on a rainy afternoon thinking nobody would be around to object to his being there, Marino says. “He was in his kennel in the shop when the club’s new vice president walked in. He took one look at Hogan and insisted that I let him out.”
Hogan was never in his kennel again.
Over the next decade, in fact, as he grew into a big friendly fellow, Hogan became something of a four-legged legend at Old Chatham. “He went wherever I went,” Marino explains. “If I was giving a lesson and running a tournament, Hogan was always there to greet the members and guests. He became a big part of the club’s culture.”
Hogan’s popularity prompted Marino to create a special logo using Hogan’s silhouette, an image that wound up on a cap that was more popular with members than the club’s distinctive logo. When former member Webb Simpson captured the U.S. Open in 2012, Hogan was more than happy to pose with the trophy on the clubhouse steps.
After Hogan passed away, Marino was flooded with sympathy cards and was moved to honor the club’s beloved canine with a new set of “Hogan” tees in his memory for the annual spring member-guest tournament. Today, a portrait of Hogan, painted by a member, hangs in the clubhouse foyer.
Over the past eight years, a nephew of Hogan’s named “Blue” has followed in his uncle’s footsteps, keeping up the tradition. When U.S. Amateur champion Doc Redmon visited in 2017, Blue was also happy to pose with the Havemeyer Trophy on the same clubhouse steps.
Only time will tell if young Pete the Aussie will grow into the super dog like Hogan at Old Town.
But theirs has been an interesting journey of discovery.
Evans grew up on a farm in rural Iowa, playing golf with his dad and friends on a nine-hole muni called Twin Lakes, where one guy took care of all the maintenance and locals sometimes pitched in to help.
“My father worked for a farm services company and I decided I either wanted to do something in farming or sports for a career,” Evans explains. “Golf course maintenance was the perfect answer because it’s really high-end farming,” he adds with a laugh.
After earning a degree in agronomy at a local community college and working as second assistant at Brown Deer Golf Club in Coraville, Iowa, he volunteered to work at the 2009 U.S. Amateur at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a Perry Maxwell masterpiece built in 1936 that has hosted a half-dozen major championships. The PGA Championship is scheduled to return there in 2022 and 2030.
Evans spent a decade at Southern Hills learning his craft as an assistant under legendary superintendent Russ Myers, working closely with architect Gil Hanse on a renovation in preparation for this week’s 2021 Senior PGA Championship.
It was Myers who recommended Evans when the top job at Old Town opened up in October of 2018. Evans arrived on the scene just days after Hurricane Michael washed away the course’s spectacular 11th green. “Fortunately I had experience rebuilding greens under Gil Hanse and Russ Myers. We got it rebuilt in eight days,” he says. “Coming from one Perry Maxwell course to another [built three years after Southern Hills] made the transition feel very natural. It really felt like coming home, a dream job for me. I just needed one more thing.”
Southern Hills wasn’t just home to 15 major championships. It also had a tradition of beloved super dogs named “Max” (in honor of Perry Maxwell) and “Nap” that were essential parts of club culture.
“They were so beloved at Southern Hills, I was eager to finally have a golf dog of my own,” Evans says. “Fortunately, the terrific members at Old Town were OK with that.”
Evans even knew the breed he wanted, an Australian shepherd like his former colleagues at Shoal Creek in Alabama and Guyan Golf and Country Club in West Virginia raved about.
Through a breeder near Asheville, North Carolina, Evans and his fiancée, Kendall, found a blue-eyed Aussie pup and brought him home to start training for his new job. “Pete was full of life from the beginning, just loved to run and play – willing to be bribed with treats from Kendall.”
Pete’s journey to adulthood almost ended prematurely, however, when the dog mysteriously began losing weight and faced surgery to repair small intestines that had inexplicably fused. “It was a really tough situation. They ended up taking two feet of his intestines out,” Evans explains as the morning rounds end and he and Pete amble into his office in the maintenance building.
Fortunately, with time and medication, Pete rebounded quickly, putting on weight – soon racing like the wind over the Golden Age contours of Old Town.
“You wouldn’t know there was anything wrong with him now,” says his proud owner today, “and he never lets us forget that for a minute. As a result of his surgery, we’re probably a bit behind in his training. But we’ll make up for that. He’s so smart. I think more members know Pete’s name than mine these days – which is just fine with me.”
As Bryant Evans says this, his working pal Pete – momentarily still – appears to be gazing at something on the wall behind his owner’s desk.
Rather amazingly, it turns out to be the 2021 Rain Bird Underdogs of Golf calendar, fittingly open to the October page featuring eight of golf’s super dogs – a pair of black labs, a pit bull, a husky, a yellow lab, a golden retriever, a shepherd mix and Pete, lying on the fairway, daring you to chase him with those bright blue eyes.
“I think he knows it’s him,” Evans allows with a laugh. “I hope it doesn’t go to his head. He’s hard enough to catch already.”
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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