It has been a marquee week for Florida golf reptiles, as sightings of enormous alligators and snakes have inspired fear and overreaction all over the country…but probably not Florida, where such is life.
You’ve seen the headline. We’ll get to the gator in a moment. But this snake deserves some major credit as well. We are presumably looking at an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, as the only other species of rattler in Florida is the “Pygmy”…which certainly does not apply here. I will ruin many people’s day by informing them that rattlesnakes live almost everywhere. Literally every member of the continental United States has some population of rattlers. This, however, is irrelevant. They did not evolve noisemakers so that they could sneak up and kill you. They are literal embodiments of the “Don’t Tread on Me” metaphor and—unlike the guy wearing that T-shirt and waving his handgun around after you’ve insulted the Steelers—the rattlesnake will not follow you, telling no one in particular about his right to defend Ben Roethlisberger’s honor.
We digress. The true star of this post is the equally innocuous American Alligator, which tends to kill three-ish people per year. It would be a cliché to tell you that alligators killed fewer people than Pit Bulls last year, but you may be interested to learn that alligators killed fewer people than daschunds during 2017. Weiner dogs.
This brings us back to the star of the show. If there was a president of American Alligators, Chubbs would almost assuredly be it. He makes frequent appearances at Buffalo Creek Golf Course, south of Tampa Bay. He is big, he is relaxed, and he is fat. He is the ideal American house pet.
Chubbs has popped into the news several times since 2016, when golfers first caught him plodding across the fairways at Buffalo Creek. “Big” and “plodding” are key here; estimated to be 15 ft. in length, Chubbs is potentially the largest recorded crocodilian in Florida history (free herpetology lesson…all alligators are crocodilians…not all crocodilians are alligators. I am at peak petty when critiquing crocodile misprints). He also moves very slowly. Buffalo Creek head pro Ken Powell has confirmed Chubbs living on-site since at least 2011, and is quick to note the alligator’s disinterest in all things human. According to this Times article, he even has a “routine” walk—emerging from the reservoir that serves as a forced carry on the Par 3 No. 3, trundling over to Nos. 8 and 9 before coming back around to the longer Nos. 5 and 6.
This is…adorable. And Buffalo Creek does absolutely nothing on its website to publicize Chubbs, who is obviously its biggest draw (no offense to designer Ron Garl). There are potentially hundreds of municipal golf courses around the United States that would kill to have a prehistoric monolith attracting hordes of casual golfers.
“Yes,” you say. “I am thinking about opening a golf course, and I would love an enormous aquatic reptile as an insurance policy. But how can I make this happen?”
GLAD YOU ASKED. Strap in to the fanboat, tune into some Alligator Rodeo (a groovy sludge group, even if they did use a crocodile and not an alligator head on their debut album art. Effing amateur hour) and let’s learn something about building golf courses to attract the American Alligator!
1. Be located in Florida, or very specific parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana.
This sounds obvious, but it’s key. Sure, alligators are known to reside as far north as Southern Virginia or as far west as Oklahoma. They are remarkably resilient to cold, noted for estivating in a vertical position so that the water surface can freeze around their still-breathing nostrils. Yes, here is the mandatory link to “Trapped Under Ice.” Badass as these gators are, they are unlikely to reach anywhere near Chubbs-size. Basically, the more ideal the conditions, the more likely to develop a behemoth (no, you don’t get a link for that).
Florida, as Chubbs himself would probably tell you, is a pretty great place to be a gator. Southern Georgia, as well as the Gulf-side of Alabama, Mississippi and New Orleans also have potential. Not as much potential as Florida, but we realize you don’t all have Mike Keiser-money to throw at developing this thing.
2. Be Audobon-approved.
Yes, you should aim to be Audubon-approved anyway in 2018, unless you are an asshole. But this suggestion is more than just hippie heroics.
Alligators are studs within the crocodilian world for their ability to withstand cold temperatures. They are much less tolerant when it comes to water quality, however. They, like David Blaine, are willing to be frozen into anything, as long as it’s clean. Despite living in swamps, they’re rather tidy creatures. Crocodiles a tad more willing to put up with human crap, but they also limit themselves to the Southern tip of Florida—either because they have retired from Ohio or because they enjoy art deco*. To paraphrase Pete Dye, the first three rules are drainage, drainage and drainage—not only to keep your fairways ambling but also to keep your chemical slurry out of the pond, thereby increasing your attempts tenfold for attracting a Chubbs.
* Neither of these is confirmed. Just a theory.
Dye may have set the best example imaginable when designing the Kiawah Ocean Course in 1989. That lake at No. 17 that you hit four balls into actually serves as a small reservoir as well, storing rain runoff, filtering, and returning it as irrigation. Count the number of gators you see during a round at Kiawah and think back to this moment.
3. Water, duh. But don’t forget the beach.
It stands to reason that an “aquatic” organism is more likely to thrive in environments where water is prevalent. If you already assumed that “the more ponds, the better,” you are correct. Alligators are remarkably like humans, and all other reptiles, in that they enjoy lying out in the sun. One would think that, being the largest animal in Florida, an alligator would be relaxed sunning anywhere. They are not. They must be shy about their beach bodies, because it makes zero sense that they would be intimidated by me and a 7-iron. Either way, they tend to walk out of the water until the tip of their tail touches land, and then they plop down (this makes retreat simple).
Cape holes are a logical option for the gator enthusiast, with fairways that spoon water bodies for vast stretches. Sawgrass’s No. 18 is probably the most famous cape in Florida, but the support wall isn’t going to work. Think Bay Hill or any Doral installment instead. Alligators are strange golf hazards in that frat brothers will actually aim at them with the intention of posting a hilarious Instagram live video. Again, attacks are rare, but people will absolutely try to hold you liable if a gator on your property kills their spouse/child. Your challenge is to encourage sunbathing while discouraging idiots. One thing that idiots will not aim for: bunkers. Guard the inside corners of your doglegs with bunkers, and the inner edge of your capes with fairway bunkers, so that people play to the outside fairway.
No, the gators will not lay eggs in your bunkers. You are thinking of sea turtles.
4. THE NUCLEAR OPTION: Blow a hole in one
Alligators are known for “gator holes,” trenches dug into the mud deep enough for them to store water, even when the dry season heats up. This pool attracts prey, and alligators also require water for mating purposes (yes, owning a home is a aphrodisiac in all cultures). As with humans, when a neighborhood gets hot, gators come running. You are the opportunistic landlord in this instance.
Florida is covered in both aquifers and limestone, which has a tendency to collapse, hence the state’s residential sinkhole problem. Sometimes, these sinkholes can reach depths of 130 feet, making them the hippest spot possible for a landlocked gator. “Deep Hole,” a sinkhole at Myakka River State Park near Sarasota, hosts up to 200 gators at one time during the Summer.
The dynamite required to create a deep hole probably won’t be much more than what Michael Hurdzan used at Calusa Pines in nearby Naples.
Want to blow up Bethpage Black Metal? You know the Twitter account to light up @BPBlackMetal.