Last July, I was golfing at Moose Run's Creek Course when I heard something approaching from behind the No. 9 green. Must be another golfer, I thought, even though I was playing alone. I prefer to walk "the creek" by myself in the evenings, after the foursomes in carts go home. Some say I should be more social on the golf course, buddy up and have some fun.
Anyway, that night I was eyeing a 3-foot par putt when I turned and saw that my company was a small black bear, probably a yearling. My first thought was to hurry up and make the putt. Par is a good score on No. 9. Then I could look at the bear. Bear sightings are not rare on the creek course.
But I had to back off from my putt when the bear trotted right onto the green and toward me.
"No, bear. Get away! No!"
Still, it came, walking slowly now, calmly, silently.
"What the …"
When it got to within a few feet I started swinging my putter at it. The bear stopped just short of getting hit, allowing me to gain a few yards of separation, but it would not retreat. It came again. I again backed away, yelling and swinging in defense. I wished I had bear spray or at least my driver. I looked at my golf ball on the green, my par putt, getting farther and farther away. Life can change so quickly. Would I ever make par again?
Seriously, I wondered if this little guy, no larger than a large, fat dog, would kill me. It could certainly hurt me. But maybe not if I hurt him first. I tried charging the bear, attempting to whack its snout with my Ping Zing putter head. But the bear would dart sideways or back off just out of range. Then it would come again, slowly, calmly, silently.
This dance of ours went on for about two minutes. My voice was getting hoarse, arms getting tired. Finally, I heard the sound of a golf cart motoring down the fairway toward me. The golfer saw the commotion and came to the green area. When he slammed on the brakes, the screeching tires on the cart path spooked the bear into the woods.
I repeatedly thanked the cart golfer as he drove me back to the pro shop, where I reported the incident. Day golfers had been feeding the bear, a course employee said. It probably thought I had food. But I had nothing but a par putt. And the bear took that away.
Feeling a bit spooked myself, I stayed off the Creek Course for a few weeks. Instead, I golfed a few rounds in broad daylight on other courses with other golfers in carts. There was buddy talk and burping and bonding. I think it was fun. I made some pars and even an occasional birdie. But something was lost. I wasn't sure what it was, but I had a hunch as to where I might have left it.
And so I returned to "the creek" — alone at night and on foot. I had another short par putt on No. 9. It was quiet on the green. Too quiet. Though I had decided my recent bear encounter was rare, I still felt vulnerable, humbled by the uncertainty. The game of golf will humble anybody. But when you add bears to the equation, I guess the humility reaches a higher level. I was not in charge out here. Not even close. And I like that feeling.
"May I play through?" I said to whatever, whoever was in charge.
I missed the par putt. But that was OK because I've decided that bogey is now a good score on No. 9, the "bear hole."
I headed for the back nine feeling alone, small and good. I hit a straight drive on No. 10, not a long one, but I had good visibility on either side of me as I journeyed down the fairway and into the night.
Tony Bickert is a former Alaska journalist, current teacher and eternal golfer.
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