The Snag Hole
I found this excellent history of tarpon flies written by Pat Ford. Some good stuff in here...
My yellow mouse home-tie tarpon fly
hook - Mustad 9175 short shank or Owner Aki 5170 or 5370...3/0, 2/0, 1/0...Gamakatsu SC17 and SL12S are also excellent tarpon fly hooks.
butt - yellow maribou
tail - stubby yellow saddle, splayed or married (fat base, fast taper hackle..don't use the long, thin stuff), add a bit of pearl Krystal Flash
head - spun, clipped Mule Deer hair
eyes - bead chain, hollow
This fly is designed to be fished shallow, just under the surface...great for laid up fish in the backcountry. Tarpon eyes look up...they will see it!
Have also caught permit and snook on this fly.
The main thing is...how does the fly look wet?...how it acts in the water is all that matters, not how it looks in your fly box or vise.
As tarpon get harder to fool these days, the trend is to smaller hooks, skinny flies and lighter shock tippets.
Property rights, landowner rights, water rights...all hot-button issues in Montana...always have been. I believe the landowner has solid rights, legal rights, historical rights.
But what about this? I have a stream going through my property that feeds into another stream that leads to the water rights of others down stream. Rights that are deeded...rights that are needed..for irrigation, for crops, for feed, for electrical power, for recreation...and I decide I am going to dam off the water...I am going to stop the flow...I am going to cut off everybody downstream...cut off their water...cut off their irrigation...cut off their legally deeded water rights. Can I just arbitrarily cut off the water because I own the land it flows through? Can I just go out into the middle of the Madison River and build a dam because I own the property on both sides of the river? Can I dam up the West Fork? How about Jack Creek? O'Dell Creek?
In Montana, water rights are sacred. I have the Ennis-Shriver Ditch running through my back yard. I have a deeded amount of miner's inches I am legally allowed to use. So do many other folks along the ditch including ranchers and home owners. Can I just decide to dam up the ditch to make a duck pond or a swimming hole for the kids? What if somebody upstream from me dams up the ditch? When beavers do it we blow them up!
Every year the flows in the Madison are a worry. We have had some scary low water years...the river needs all the water it can get from snowmelt, tribuaries and spring fed sources. Arbitrarily damming up and cutting off the free flow of water to the Madison River has little to do with property rights and everything to with an assault against nature.
This used to be a free-flowing tributary from O'Dell Creek into the Madison River before the Granger Ranch dammed it up and cut off the flow.
...my personal notes and photos from guiding and fishing in the Florida Keys for close to three decades...by Capt. Randy Brown
"Hey RB, I've got a good deal." (This normally means you row and I'll fish but not this time.)
"I've buddied up to this guy Stu Apte...he's got some guests from New Zealand in town. We show them a good time on the river and he will take us tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys."
Me and Stu Apte...Florida Bay...1987 (John Field photo)
Well...I found out...and then some.
When you take off from Duck Key and head straight North across Florida Bay and you're lucky enough to have it slick calm and glassy, which doesn't happen very often, the air and the water all become one thing. The horizon just blurs into a solid mass of bluish, grayish haze.
When you look behind and the mainland vanishes you are in the middle of nothing. The open water is zipping by at 4800 RPMS and you strain your eyeballs to find your way...the lobster and stone crab trap buoys go whizzing by...the ballyhoos and finger mullet are cartwheeling through the air...you pick up the twin Yacht Channel markers in the glaze and bear left, find Sprigger green #5 then the Everglades Park marker then Schooner red #6 and green #7 and there it is...what you're looking for...a blurry hump on the horizon...Sandy Key.
In the Western, outer part of Florida Bay, Sandy Key was my rock...I could navigate the rest of the spots using Sandy Key...I had to...I never used a compass.(I had one but it broke and I got rid of it) Sandy Key/Carl Ross Key...Everglades Nat'l. Park, Florida Bay
Many of the great shallow water tarpon spots in the world are here...Sandy Key Basin, First National Bank, Oxfoot, The Trench, Man Of War, Rabbit Key Basin, Nine Mile Bank, Arsenicker Basin, Buchanan Bank and many others.
That is where I started...and thirty years later this is where I ended...
...standing on the Long Key Bridge watching my fishing pliers somersaulting through the air, disappearing into the rolling current and sea foam... rushing through the pilings out into Florida Bay. Only the laughing gulls saw me.
In between, I fished everywhere from Miami to the Marquesas...150 miles of grass, marl, mangroves and adventure...but it gets better, or worse...I kept a log book and I kept some photos...and now I'll tell you about it...
THE SILVER KING...EL SABALO
me and the late Kathy Guard with a nice tarpon she caught with fly rod off Long Key in 1988...one of my best memories as a fishing guide.
Man Of War Loggerhead Basin Upper Harbor Key
NINE MILE MONSTER
The 1980s was a great time to be tarpon fishing in the Florida Keys. I got to run around Florida Bay and find fish milling, finning, lollygagging, sleeping, laid up "doggo". If you could find them they would bite your fly and then some.
my yellow mouse tarpon fly
I spent a lot of time at Channel Key Banks...a great spot for early season tarpon...strong current, big fish. This fish was caught late 1980s...I was still fishing out of my 1985 Hewes Bonefisher..."Strait Shooter".
Release at Long Key Beach
Roy Washburn in action...Florida Bay
My Everglades Nat'l. Park Permit...1987
In May, many of the top Keys guides were up in Homosassa chasing the "big one", so the pressure was not that bad. You could always find a place to fish as long as it wasn't the "Pocket" at Buchanan Bank...that place was always 10 or 12 boats deep even back then. But I never went there...I had plenty of other good spots...and in the 1980s in the Florida Keys, the number one best spot was...The Marquesas.
I probably spent 100 days in the Marquesas in the 1980s and 1990s and it was usually worth the 50 mile drive down from Marathon to Garrison Bight and the 22 mile run across from Key West to the promised land. Tarpon were rolling near the stop sign on the West side, laid up on the inside, swimming and daisy-chaining on the outside. The largest daisy chain of tarpon I ever saw was at the Marquesas...over 200 fish.
One of the great pleasures I had fishing the Keys was the chance to run to the Marquesas. My favorite time was anytime the wind was down...the tarpon were almost always there. We used to time our run over and then back with the slack tide...crossing Boca Grande Channel when the current was running could rattle your dentures! The fastest I ever made the run from Garrison Bight to the Southeast side was 55 minutes, balls out, flat calm, 5000rpm!
Double Hewes Bonefishers on the 60' Hatteras for our Marquesas trip...Southwest beach outside of Mooney Harbor...looks like a James Bond movie ready to launch!
I was lucky enough to get booked for a five-day overnight trip to the Marquesas in 1988...tied up my Hewes to a 60 foot Hatteras and woke up every morning with tarpon rolling right outside my window. Just putt-putt over there and have at 'em! I had many days I only saw one or two guide boats.
I took this photo of George Anderson right after he busted a new Winston 12 weight on a big tarpon in the Marquesas. We were fishing the Northwest corner near the old Stop Sign.
Becker is hooked up!
Nice fish taken at Man Of War Basin, Everglades Park and released alive.
Big One from Florida Bay...released.
Solid fiberglass JK Fisher two piece tarpon fly rod..."The Anesthetizer" in full parabolic mode from the bow of my skiff inflicting stress and discomfort upon a large tarpon. I took this photo in Coupon Bight, circa early 1990s.
Rudi Heger tarpon fishing from belly boat off my skiff, Bayside Long Key. Rudi is the owner of Traun River Products...a fly fishing retailer outside of Munich, Germany. One morning Rudi hooked a tarpon of some 80 lbs. from the belly boat and the fish took off for the Bay towing Rudi behind like a water skiier. Luckily, the fish jumped off or Rudi would still be out there!
My other favorite place to fish in my early days in the Keys was Florida Bay. In the 1980s and 1990s, Nine Mile Bank was almost a sure thing. There was almost always tarpon laying up between the First and Second Point near the "elbow"...you could bank on it, especially early in the year. I caught many many tarpon in January, Febuary and March back there before the ocean migration got started.
Rabbit Key Basin, Man O War Basin, Sandy Key Basin, First National, Oxfoot and Schooner and Channel Key Banks were right up there with it. Later on in the Spring, the long, crooked Nine Mile Bank had a bayside migration of it own.
In my old Hewes using a Moonlighter push pole
In March and April, Coupon Bight and Loggerhead Basin were a couple of my favorites, often times holding very large tarpon laid up like logs. A lot of people said the tarpon in Coupon would not eat but I had pretty good luck in there in the 1980s and 1990s....you had to be lucky and good and catch one in the right mood! Several fly rod world record tarpon came out of Coupon in the 1970s, 1980s before Homosassa took over.
One day in the Bight, Bob Guard threw at a laid up fish with me on the pole. At first I thought it was two fish but as I got closer I realized it was the largest tarpon I had ever seen. Bob made a perfect cast a couple of feet in front of its face, let it settle, stripped it out, and the fish never moved. He made another perfect cast and the monster just slowly turned its head and swam away. That fish was over 200 pounds.
The fly reel is a rare John Emery model designed for large tarpon by the famous Keys guide
When you leave the lagoon at the Old Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp at Big Pine Key, you putt-putt under the No Name Bridge, jump up and head North. If it's blowing from the East you catch the lee at Porpoise Key and left of the bank at Mayo Key, staying up real shallow so as not to spook the tarpon in the basin...find the homemade stakes leading to Bogie Channel...cut hard left through Apte Gap to get to the ocean or stay to the right and snake your way through the stakes, past Annette and Cutoe Keys, coming out at Howe Key Basin and you make a decision...left through the pass between Big Torch and South Water Keys to the Content Keys, or right to Upper Harbor Key or maybe Spanish Banks.
Or just head straight Northeast from Wooden Bridge to find... Little Pine Key, Johnsons, Horseshoe, Sandfly, West Bahia Honda, East Bahia Honda, Jack Bank, The Fish Box, or all the way over to Sideboard Bank.
We caught this one at Hommel's Corner on a very windy day...outside Loggerhead Basin near Bow Channel
Sam McCausland fights a big tarpon in Loggerhead Basin...photo by Harry Spear
Me and Tom Schell rasslin' another one.
Andy caught this one off West Point between Loggerhead Key and Bow Channel
Me and Bob Benson with a tarpon caught at Southeast Point...sometimes called the Bongo Holes!
Just before the major ocean run started I liked to sneak up to Key Largo in April. The big schools of tarpon that have been laid up all winter in Government Cut, Miami and Biscayne Bay start to leave the deep water and migrate South. They leave via Caesars or Broad C. or Angelfish and work their way down the coast. Huge schools and strings of one hundred fish plus are common. I would launch the skiff at John Pennekamp State Park and work North toward Carysfort and Dynamite Docks. About the only guides I would see would be Steve Huff or John Kipp... maybe Harry Spear or Dale Perez. I loved Key Largo.
Miracles Do Happen
The tarpon pictured above was caught on my yellow mouse fly by Max Wieland on June 13, 1995. Max travelled all the way from Germany to fulfill his dream of catching a tarpon on a fly. After days of failure and crummy weather, we set off on his last day in the USA before he had to take the long flight home. The morning was dark and dreary and clouded out. I told Max our chances were slim. He wanted to try one last time. We set out from Duck Key but didn't go far...we couldn't...it was white caps and spray, so I shut down and staked up behind a bank on the Bayside of Conch Key. Max stood up in the bow and could barely keep his balance...it was gusting 25 knots from the South. It started to spit rain. My skiff was pitching and rolling. I was just about to scrub the trip, when off to the port side a large tarpon rolled in the chop. I pulled the pole and pushed over to the left. I said "Max, just make a cast over there, you never know". He threw over into the gloom and made one strip. A huge tarpon rolled up and inhaled the yellow fly and Max came tight. Over the next several minutes I was sure this big fish would come off...but I was wrong...the fly stayed stuck and Max fought him close. I reached and grabbed the fish with my glove hand while Max shot photos...he was ecstatic...the fish was well over 100 pounds.
Max says "that's it, we're done, let's go celebrate"...we spent the rest of the morning at Hawk's Cay drinking chardonnay and yukking it up..out of the wind...out of the rain...and believing in miracles.
When the ocean run got going full bore I spent most of my time between Long Key, Duck Key and Grassy Key.
with Steve Cook and Gene Tennyson. You can barely see the Channel Five
Bridge in the background...May 29, 1990.
Frankie Wolfson on the bow of my old Hewes, Archer Key Basin near Key West, circa 1990.
My man Keith...on March 19 & 20, 1994 he hooked nineteen tarpon on plug and
fly gear at Nine Mile Bank...we had some fun!
Just about every day at a certain time in the tide I could expect enough tarpon to come by to offer some good shots with the fly rod...at times there would be hundreds of fish. If that country dried up I would trailer down to the public ramp on Little Torch or further down to Sugarloaf and sample the oceanside flats there, or travel even further to Key West and fish the tarpon grounds to the West...Seven Channels, Archer Key Basin, Woman and Ballast Keys, Boca Grande...Pearl Basin, Calda and the Tower Flats, where I could usually find Jose Wejebe.
The late Capt. Jose Wejebe...the "Spanish Fly"...a great fisherman and a friend...he loved the Tower Flats...RIP.
And as the big moon in May got closer, everybody would talk worms...palolo worms...relaunching skiffs later in the day to sit on the worm runs from Broad Ck. to the Marquesas...with most of the attention focused on Bahia Honda.
The Old Bahia Honda Bridge...thousands of tarpon congregate here in the Springtime...rolling and feeding and waiting for worms.
My favorite home-tie worm patterns.
Large tarpon with a worm fly stuck in his upper lip!
My tarpon fly box with worm flys and other "getters".
I was lucky enough to hit the worm hatch at Bahia Honda, Tom's Harbor, Sugarloaf Ck and Long Key a few times. One night I sat at the Bahia Honda worm bar by myself and hooked seven tarpon on a fly. I will never forget that night because I saw something I never saw before...a boat right next to me had a triple header hook-up on tarpon...three anglers...three fish on at once...chaos!
Baby Tarpon...Big Fun
This is the only tarpon I ever had mounted...it was caught on a fly at Horseshoe Key by my angler and was bleeding. I took it to George Cornish at Summerland Key and he made a mount. It was the first and last tarpon I ever killed. We should all do whatever we can to preserve these great fish.
The early saltwater fly reels built by Frank Catino were from solid bar stock and fun to fish! I still own a matched, numbered set of Catino bonefish and tarpon fly reels.
From my daily log I added up the tarpon catch numbers over the years...total tarpon hooked: 1532...total landed: 438. The best years were 1994,95,96 where we hooked 154, 127,117 respectively. The totals include tarpon of all sizes and age classes...from 5 pound babies to 150 pound jumbos.
A titch under 40lbs...caught by Keith Aragi...southeast side of the Marquesas...March 30, 1993...guided by Randy Brown...released alive.
This great fish was featured in an article in the March, 1992 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine.
Spear epoxy crab fly
My good client Keith Aragi from Connecticut caught these three permit in less than one hour off E. Content Key. They just kept coming in waves! All were released.
Lenny Berg and Woody Sexton...two great characters I knew well!
John and Jack Siragusa
Happy New Year, 1995...caught at Horseshoe Key...released.
Barry Meyer caught this whopper out in front of Marathon...it was 45 lbs...
a potential World Record released alive.
Bus Bergmann and me with a nice fly-caught permit...Grassy Key, oceanside.
Both of these anglers threw crabs at two permit at the same time...both reels went off...I thought we had a double...except one permit ate both crabs. Incredibly, both hooks stayed in and both these guys fought and landed the same fish...I videoed this rodeo and tape exists somewhere. We were fishing off Monkey Bank, Lower Keys, March, 1991.
Bob Sztoric...caught off Upper Harbor Key
We caught this one on the light bottom off Big Torch Key
Permit fishing at Mud Keys...1989.
Alde Feskanin...caught out in front of Marathon.
Jose Nunez Jr., Capt. Albert Ponzoa
Fly caught permit...21 lbs...early 1990s.
I'm sure I caught this one but I don't remember how big, how many, what, where or when!
Jay Weinberg from Philly...one of the good guys!
The last permit I released in the Keys...May, 2012
Del Brown, 1918-2003
I was living in Marathon and just starting my guide career when the word spread around town...Del Brown had just caught the largest permit ever on a fly rod. Down at Hall's Bait & Tackle the Keynoter newspaper photographer was on the scene...
It was a remarkable catch on a fly rod, but it was no accident. Del Brown went on to catch hundreds more and left this earth with 513 total. Steve Huff told me he was sure this one was a record fish and they fought it for a long time, ending up out in the deep water. They finally got it close and Steve was ready to hit it with the kill gaff when a tarpon rolled right next to the permit and spooked it. Luckily, it stayed hooked and the rest is history.
I was lucky to know Del and he was quite a guy...always enthusiastic and ready to talk permit fishing. Of all the fishing records people keep, I'm betting no one will top 513 permit on a fly rod! RIP.
Me and Bob Hewes. He invented the flats skiff and probably advanced flats fishing more than anyone. His Hewes Bonefisher became world famous.
He lived right down the street from the Wooden Bridge Fishing Camp on Big Pine. I chatted with him often. He knew boats! He liked my boat!
Old brochure for the "New Hewes Bonefisher II"...that's "The One Eyed Indian", Capt. Bill Curtis from Miami on the pole. He pretty much invented chumming for bonefish in Biscayne Bay.
Long Key was one of my favorite bonefish spots...both outside on the beach and inside in the Bight...I caught my first tailing bonefish on fly wade fishing Long Key Beach...the two or three best days I ever had bonefishing were at Long Key...seven for ten on Feb.26, 1989 and eight for ten on March 17, 1996. At times when the tide was right, Long Key Bight would get rammed with fish, schools and pods, mudders, swimmers and tailers. It truly was a great spot. That's an old SA System Two reel and a Sage 890 RPL rod.
Mary Bartz...a fine lady and angler...Mary held many women's saltwater IGFA and IWFA records on 2lb. and 4lb. test line. I loved trying to tie those Bimini Twists with 2lb. for her when the wind was blowing 20K...cat's in the cradle!
We caught this one in Largo Sound. I believe it was 4 pound test. She always paid her guide fee in $100 bills! This was sometime in the late 1980s while Mary and her husband Ted were both working at Hall's Bait & Tackle in Marathon.
The old Hall's Bait & Tackle Shop in Marathon, Florida Keys...long since out of business, it was THE place to buy bait, tackle and flies in the 1980s.
Here's a weird one...a bonefish on a rubber worm...this was at Little Pine Key throwing at baby tarpon...and I caught another one with a purple worm around Marathon casting for barracudas. Who knew?
Casting to a tailing bonefish and then catching it! Nine Mile Bank.
Nine Mile Bank
Some days I love my job...this was one of them.
Caught at Long Key Beach...1990s.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there were two places in the Keys you could hope to find Bahamas
type bonefish numbers...Key Largo and Nine Mile Bank.
Up at Largo, fishing the coastline from Elliott Key down to the Airport Flat, hundreds of bonefish could be found on the right tide and right weather, with schools of over 100 fish quite common. They would swim down the coast and then back up...in waves...black bullets pushing a wake that could be seen hundreds of yards away. Bonanzas could be had with catches of over a dozen bonefish in a day a real possibility.
Nine Mile Bank, especially in the 1980s before the algae blooms killed acres of seagrass in the Bay, also hosted big schools of bonefish with not only numbers but size to go with it. Bonefish over 10 pounds were quite common back there, and large mudding schools of 30, 40 fish or more were on the prowl. One could also expect to land a real trophy size fish of 10, 12, 14 pounds or larger.
The Keys still holds bonefish of large size today, but sadly the numbers are down. I feel lucky to have bonefished during the heyday, when both size and numbers were available for both the angler and guide.
This fish was caught at the Jo Jo's flat, oceanside Grassy Key in the late 1980s. In those days, if you knew the tides, catching tailers at Jo Jo's at sundown and past sunset was almost a sure thing. I spent a lot of time there fishing myself and with clients...both wading and poling my skiff. It was quite common to see 50, 60 bonefish tailing at sundown on this flat, and many of them were whoppers!
Wading the Jo Jo's flat for bonefish.
My bonefish flys...I mainly used two patterns...a standard Gotcha with Kraft Fur and chrome eyes for deep water swimmers and mudders...and the yellow fly with bead chain eyes for tailers and shallow water fish...size 4 and 6.
Bonefish tally from my time in the Keys:
872 hooked, 567 landed. My best bonefish year was 1989...the numbers slowly declined from then until now. In recent years, redfish have moved into bonefish spots. The High School Flat, a well-known bonefish spot out in front of Marathon, has now become a redfish flat and redfish have moved into several other flats in the Lower Keys where you never used to see them. Not sure if this is a water quality or water temperature issue.
George "Bugsy" Wojtusiak and Stan Zawacki near Sandy Key
Dave from the Madison River Fishing Co. with a backcountry double: redfish and black drum on the fly...guided by Capt. Randy Brown
THE GRAND SLAM
There are Grand Slams of many types...North American Sheep...baseball has a Grand Slam home run...contract bridge has a Grand Slam...there is a billfish Grand Slam...tennis has a Grand Slam...golf has a Grand Slam. But on the flats, the Grand Slam means catching a bonefish, tarpon and permit by the same angler in one day. I have had a few...
Keith Aragi from Brookfield Ct. had four Flats Grand Slams while fishing with me through the years. The last one could have easily been a Double Slam. We caught two bonefish and two permit during the day in the backsountry, then headed for the ocean flat at Sunshine Key late in the day to catch the falling tide. Poling down sun to the East, I looked across the white sand and had to blink to make sure I wasn't seeing things. Across the white bottom here comes a big stingray with not one, not two, but THREE nice permit following the ray. Keith makes a good cast and we hook up one of the fish, landing it in good time to complete the slam. Now here comes another permit and we hook up again for the Double Slam and the fish breaks off right next to the boat as I am reaching with the net. Quite the amazing feat for the fine angler!
Jack Siragusa...Flats Grand Slam...Nov. 29, 2008...permit at Spanish Banks...bonefish and tarpon at Cutoe Key...photos and casting advice courtesy of Nick Stanczyk. Fear the "U"!
This is a special award...two guys party hardy in Key West the night before and go after the Grand Slam which they might have gotten if Smitty hadn't fallen out of the boat and Alex hadn't died laughing so hard he could barely cast. Bonefish, tarpon and a permit in their dreams. Had a lot of fun with these guys!
AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON...
I kept log books...lots of them...over 30 years worth...I would write down the days highlights (and lowlights)...note the tides and the flats where I found fish. I would transfer the daily notes into a big, thick, ugly-ass three ring binder. I would make zerox copies of charts and put them in the binder. I would copy the NOAA tide charts and mark where I should go for a particular day....then the morning of the trip I would write down the tides and list the four or five stops I planned to make on the back of an old business card and keep it in my pocket. This card would be my bible for the day...I would check it constantly for the tides and where I should be headed. This kept me focused and kept me from wandering or prospecting. I learned to NEVER go prospecting with paying clients in the boat...it's poison. I never headed out without a plan for the day.
The tides were always my number one key to the day...TIDES NEVER LIE (well, almost never).
The monthly NOAA tide charts and my notes...upper left is the card I carried on every trip with the tides for the day and my scheduled stops...I always had a plan...it didn't always work but at least I had it! I would zerox sections of charts so I could mark the spots I found fish.
Capt. Harry Snow Jr. at his dock at Sugarloaf. He probably knew more about bonefish in the Lower Keys than any man who ever lived. He told me he started bonefishing with his father in the 1940s using a casting reel with linen line, a pyramid sinker and a hunk of hermit crab for bait. He said he played softball as a kid in the middle of the Overseas Hwy. in Marathon. They would have to stop about once an hour to let a car go by. One day in March of 1989 I bumped into Harry at the end of the day and asked how he did:
"It was good today...we caught thirteen".
He never used crab for permit, just shrimp...if he couldn't get shrimp he would use a pink Millie jig tipped with half of an orange plastic worm. He caught plenty of permit that way.
He always used wire for his tarpon fly "tippets".
Once he told me how to find one of his secret bonefish chum spots:
"Just pole over there to the mangrove point and look for the coke bottles." He had them piled there from 40 years of fishing that spot.
I learned so much from that man. I will never forget him.
If you grew up in Ohio like I did, you knew all about John "Hondo" Havlicek...star player for Ohio State and the Bostic Celtics, number 17..."Havlicek stole the ball!!!" We spent a great day on the water...he had many stories about Bobby Knight most of which I can't repeat! John was a great guy and fun to fish with and he was nice enough to sign this for me!
In the 1980s it was fairly common to find mutton snappers on the flats...either tailing, following sting rays or nurse sharks. The flats to the West of Key West were prime and the Marquesas was the best. We caught this one off E. Content Key.
This Great White Shark weighed 1100 pounds. It was caught by Capt. Bob Taute off the Islamorada Humps on a whole amberjack. They put the huge fish in the back of a refrigerated truck and paraded it around Marathon, stopping at the bait shops and drawing a crowd. It was the third Great White caught in the Keys while I was living there.
I ran up on these beached sperm whales off Snipe Pt. in the Lower Keys backcountry, Spring of 1988. No one really knows why whales and dolphins do mass beachings, although there are many theories. These were large whales, around 50' in length.
This jewfish weighed 319 pounds. I took this photo at Bonefish Harbor Marina on Grassy Key in the early 1990s when it was legal to keep jewfish. It was caught on
half of a large barracuda in Florida Bay.
Me and Capt. Nat Ragland, "The Senator", one of the top guides in the Keys. Nat got his start working on the "Flipper" TV show in Miami...I never could quite figure out exactly what he did with Flipper, but anyway...not only was Nat a talented flats guide he was a wizard at rigging a flats boat...a master electrician, he could wire anything and was an artist with the Dremel Tool. He invented the Puff permit fly and had so many stories about Billy Pate, Homosassa and the wild parties at Sugarloaf Lodge...he was one funny, talented dude. One time we ran a trip together and pulled into Little Palm Island for lunch with large party of anglers. That's about all I can remember!
Nat was the greatest!
On point in my Hewes...waiting for tarpon
In January of 2013, I sold the boat, sold the house, loaded up the U-Haul, left the Keys, and moved back to Montana full time. Now it's all rainbows and brown trout...dry flys and streamers.
So many stories, flashbacks, glints and glimmers of sunlit flats and shadows...then light. A tail, a swirl, a boil, a bite...what a great time I had.
KEEP IT SIMPLE...CHART YOUR COURSE...WALK THE EARTH
DEDICATED TO ALL THE CADDIES AND ALL THE GOLF KIDS AND ALL THE CLUB PROS...
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE...AND ESPECIALLY TO:
PATRICK STOLTZ, PGA PROFESSIONAL
The Early Years
They were members at one of the nicer clubs in NE Ohio, Pine Ridge Country Club. I tagged along carrying a light Sunday bag with borrowed clubs, hit a few shots here and there and that was the start. The neighbors talked to the caddy master…when I reached 12 years old I was old enough to caddy…it was 1955.
Arnold Palmer, U.S.Coast Guard, when he was stationed in Cleveland circa 1954
Pine Ridge CC was where Arnold Palmer played a lot of his amateur golf when he was serving at the US Coast Guard Station, Lake Erie, in Cleveland in the 1950s. Palmer’s early money backers were Pine Ridge members: Art Brooks, Bill Wehnes, club pro Laurie Purola and others …Arnie played a lot of money games and “customer golf” at Pine Ridge. Being the new caddy kid, too scrawny and way too young, I never got in on the Palmer action at Pine Ridge…our paths would cross later on.
The clubhouse at Pine Ridge CC, Wickliffe, Ohio. It looks the same today as it did when I started caddying there in 1955.
The caddy master at Pine Ridge was Rocco Stillisanno, Rocky or
“The Rock”…a short, stocky little guy, he had a gravelly voice and a gruff personality and basically ignored me. He barely knew my name, calling me “Sandy” half the time.
One of Rocky’s “side jobs”was selling golf balls. His rule was any balls us caddies found on the course we had to turn over to him. In other words, those were Rocky’s golf balls.
“You caddies…anything you find is mine…hand them over when you come in and don’t forget to clean those clubs.”
Translation: do what I tell you and I will give you the good loops. Piss me off and you are in the doghouse! Rocky would even frisk us for balls when we came in. We hid them in our socks but he got wise and checked down there. Eventually we go too smart for old Rock…we stuffed the two or three best golf balls in our underwear…we knew he wasn’t going there! Or we would stash them on the course and pick them up on our way home. After all, new Titleist DTs, Spalding Dots and Red Maxflis were worth 50 cents each!
Being new and young I was last on the totem pole for loops. The older, more experienced caddies got the better players and the better tippers. Most of the time I was the last kid to get picked and got the worst players and all the cheapskates. I would kill time playing “kick golf” in the caddy yard. We had an old, hacked up golf ball and dug holes here and there. We would kick-putt with the side of our tennis shoes and bet nickels or dimes or Moon-Pies or Nip-Chee Crackers. I got pretty good at it.
Monday was our big day...it was Caddy Day! The caddies got to play “real golf”. We got out early and stayed late. We would imitate the better members’ swings and try not to swing like the hackers. One of the Pine Ridge members was Severino P. Severino, a medical writer for the Cleveland Press daily newspaper, five handicap and a friend of our family. ”Sevy” gave me my first real set of clubs; Kroydon irons, a Macgregor 3 wood and a hickory shaft Rob Roy putter…I was ready!
On caddy day, I learned how to do two things…play fast and gamble. We played fast because we only had one day a week to play and we were going to play as many holes as we could. There were many Mondays we played 54 holes…daylight to dark…walking up and down the hilly course carrying our bags. This was before gas or electric golf carts; and pull carts were for sissies.
To this day I have no trouble walking just about anywhere.
Some of the scenes from the movie Caddyshack were not too far from the truth!
We would bet on everything…every shot, every putt, low score, double on birdies, skipping balls across the lake…you get the picture. I liked golf and, even though it was hard work, I enjoyed caddying. It took me away from my troubles and gave me something to do. I laid out a little 9 hole pitch/chip course in our yard. My goal was to beat 18 strokes for nine holes…a two on every hole and an ace every now and then. For a twelve year old kid, I got pretty good at it. To this day those short shots just come natural to me.
MOVIN' ON UP
When I turned thirteen, somebody told me about a better place to caddy...bigger than Pine Ridge, nicer golf course, 450 members, better caddy program, better pay. I made the move to Acacia Country Club, corner of Richmond and Cedar Rds., Lyndhurst, Ohio. In the 1950s, Acacia was booming. An old, classic Donald Ross layout built in 1921, it was steep hills for the first five holes, then it mellowed out to a flatter layout. They had an organized caddy program headed by a school teacher caddy master by the name of Dave Paulas.
Dave was the opposite of Rocky…he was fair, honest…and above all, he was not racist He couldn’t afford to be. At Acacia we had over 100 caddies…about half black and half white. The white kids all came from the “ burbs”…Cleveland Heights, Lyndhurst, Mayfield, etc. The black kids came from “downtown”…Woodland, Kinsman, Wade Park.
At Acacia, black and white was equal. Rufus, Mr. Boone (four-leaf clover champ), the Chinchar brothers (twins), J. (for James)Wright, C. (for Clarence) Wright, Bobby Dunn, Ephriam Dunn, Jessie, Leon Burris, Paxton (Golden Gloves boxer), Doug Landgraf, Steve Haic, Eddie Stankus…we all caddied together, played on Mondays together and gambled together. The three popular gambling games were pitching pennies, shooting dice or playing Tonk (five card rummy), with a few knife games like mumbly-peg thrown in. I wasn’t very good at dice or Tonk but I held my own pitching pennies…a “leaner” paid double!
When you shot dice with Clarence Wright, Paxton and the boys you learned a new language..."skip a crap" meant don't throw snake eyes (two) or boxcars (12) when trying to make a point. "Seesix and waterbound" meant you were trying to make a six. "Little Joe from Kokomo" was a four..."Big Ben" was a ten. There were many days when I caddied all day carrying doubles for two loops (36 holes) making twelve dollars for my efforts, then went downstairs and shot dice to lose it all in ten minutes and hitchhiked home broke. You learn a lot as a caddy!
It was at Acacia that I learned the color of your skin didn’t have much to do with what kind of person you were. I worked my way up the caddy ranks as a skinny teenager. It's amazing but I can still remember names and faces after all these years.
I didn’t realize it at the time but my Acacia years would become one of the most meaningful times of my life.
One thing Dave the caddy master was serious about was Ladies Day. Every Tuesday the ladies got together for golf. Actually, it was mostly a fashion show featuring lots of chit-chat with a little golf mixed in. Most of the caddies hated Ladies Day because most of the gals were terrible golfers and didn’t tip. I didn’t mind it. It was pretty easy duty…just hand her the driver for the tee shot, then 3 wood, 3 wood, 5 wood, pitching wedge, putter and on to the next hole.
They couldn't hit it far enough to get in much trouble...just dribble, dribble, dribble...down the fairway till we got to the green!
The ladies spoke a special language: “peek-a-boo” when they topped a shot…”oooh pretty one” when they hit a nice shot, mixed in with an occasional “Geez Louise”. Most of them did a little “squat” move before they hit because they took lessons and the pro told them to bend at the knees.
But the real reason I liked Ladies Day was because of Mrs. Donald Volk.
She was a dark haired beauty…about 5’5” with jet black hair, sun-tanned skin and a body that any hot-blooded teenage boy would admire. Elizabeth Taylor in golf shoes. She wore tight golf shorts with a blouse that she kept open at least four buttons down exposing her ample, generous breasts that seemed like works of art to me. When she addressed the ball she would squeeze those beauties together forming cleavage that made me squirm, then she took the club back real slow and came down on the ball with a soft grunt. Her perfume had the faint smell of lilacs. I was in heaven. Mrs. Donald Volk liked me. Every Tuesday she would request me…ask the caddy master if she could “have” me.
Of course he said yes…and of course I never missed a Ladies Day.
You saw a lot and learned a lot as a caddy. On Thursdays a group of men would have a money game in the afternoon. They would roll into the club for lunch and the word would go out if there was going to be a game. The caddy master would give us the word to “stick around, there’s a game today”. Each member had his favorite caddy. My guy was John Skinner. Big John liked me. He was a good player with a funky swing. He had kind of a wristy, flip move. He hit a lot of hooks. He also won a lot of money. I still remember the other guys in the game like it was yesterday…Ted Weager, Gene Flagstad with the big red and black leather golf bag, Al Golaba (he smoked rum-soaked crook cigars)…Marty White with the short backswing and the custom made Kenneth Smith golf clubs (“Hand Made In Kansas City”), Paul and Fritz Heiser (the brother act), Bill Heckman with his Spalding Top Flite Tournament irons. These guys would eat lunch at the club, have a few martinis and tee it up after they got “the edges all smoothed out”. The games were fun for us caddies…if our guy won some dough we got a nice tip.
Almost as much fun as Mrs. Donald Volk but not quite!
There are always going to be cheaters…in golf and in life. I pretty much saw every form of cheating while I was a caddy…in cards, in dice and on the golf course. Golf does funny things to people. I’ve seen grown men stoop so low I didn't know whether to laugh or get sick. Lying about their scores…fluffing the ball in the rough…making bad drops…fudging their ball marker on the green…kicking the ball in bounds…illegally improving their lie…falsifying score cards…the whole works. And it might surprise you to learn that even certain tour pros would not hesitate to cheat if they thought they could get away with it.
During my caddy days, it was well known that one very famous “Major” winner was known to cheat…more than once. His favorite trick was if he had a bad lie in the rough with grass behind the ball, he would pull a three wood…sole the club behind the ball to press down the grass…the replace the three wood with the seven iron that the 160 yard shot called for!
Today, when I play casual golf or even tournament golf and I see a cheater it makes me sick to my stomach. It says a lot about the kind of person they really are.
A CLOSE CALL
Caddying could be unpredictable…I saw broken clubs, tirades, tantrums, meltdowns…one day a guy got so enraged he grabbed his bag and threw the whole thing in the lake! The weather in the Midwest could be wild. One day my pal Leon Burris and I were carrying double 18 for a foursome of Acacia members. The weather started to roll in on the back nine…it got darker and darker…the temperature started dropping…thunder, lightning, rain in the distance and closing fast…we got to the eighteenth tee and there was a rain shelter. The members decided not to stop and tried to play in.
They all hit their drives.
The eighteenth hole at Acacia was a straightaway par four back to the clubhouse with thick woods on the left. After everybody hit, I took the lead and started booking it down the fairway at warp speed with Leon and the members in hot pursuit. I was humping it as fast as my skinny legs would carry me...thunder and lightning was crashing all around us. I could see the clubhouse in the distance and all of a sudden KABOOM!
I heard a crash and a clatter and I turned around. There was Leon laying on the ground in the fairway. Both golf bags were laying there next to him with clubs scattered everywhere. The members were bent over Leon poking and jabbing him. I dropped my bags and ran over to Leon. He looked pale as a ghost which was hard to do for Leon since he was black as the ace of spades.
“Leon, Leon…are you OK?”…he stirred a little and staggered to his feet.
“Man, I think you got hit by lightning!”
“Really? Oh man…let’s get the hell outta here.”
And so we did…we made it in ok.
That was a close call with lightning I never want to have again.
The 18th hole at Acacia CC headed back to the clubhouse (they play it as the 9th hole today). This is pretty close to the spot where Leon got knocked down by lightning. The woods is off to the left out of the picture. This is one of the last photos taken of this hole before the course will be shut down to make way for a park
THE PGA TOUR
I worked my way up the caddy ladder…from “B” caddy (blue caddy cards) to “A” caddy (yellow caddy cards). “A” caddy rates were $2.50 for 18 holes, single bag…$4.00 for double 18 (two bags). We handed the card to the member at the end of the round and they signed it and turned it in…there were rating boxes on the card for the member to check: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor. Points were totaled up and the caddy rankings were posted on a bulletin board in the caddy yard each week. By the time I was 16 I had reached the Top Ten on the “A” caddy list.
I was ready for the big time.
Every year the PGA Tour would come through NE Ohio. The area was a hot-bed for golf, boasting some of the best courses and top players in the US. Arnold Palmer cut his amateur teeth there…Jack Nicklaus from down the road in Columbus was a regular…Tom Weiskopf was a local…Mark McCormack lived there and played in all the amateur tournaments before he got rich starting IMG and signing Arnold Palmer. IMG bascially invented the concept of big-money sports endorsement advertising deals.
We had courses like Acacia, Pine Ridge, Canterbury, Manakiki, Aurora, Shaker, Mayfield, Pepper Pike, Beechmont, Oakwood, The Country Club, Hawthorne Valley, Chagrin Valley, Kirtland… not to mention Firestone in Akron and Inverness in Toledo.
The Big Three on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and 1970s...Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus. Palmer and Nicklaus are both holding cigarettes trying to hide them from the camera!
The Cleveland District Golf Assoc. composed a large group of local member clubs. Every year when the PGA Tour came through town, each club would send their five best caddies to the PGA Tour for the tournament. When the pros checked in, they would draw a name from the hat and that would be their caddy for the week. This was the late 1950s, before the money got big…before the pros had their own jets…before they had their own caddies. In 1959, Acacia Country Club sent me to caddy in the Carling Open on the PGA Tour.
I was 16 years old.
When I checked in to the caddy station at Seneca CC for the Carling Open I found out who my pro was….big George Bayer…all six foot five, 250 pounds of him, had drawn my name. At the time, Bayer was the longest hitter in golf. He would routinely win the long drive contest held on Mondays on the PGA Tour, pounding it out there 305, 310, 325 yards using a wound golf ball and a persimmon-head driver. I was happy to have drawn a “name” pro. All the big names were there…Palmer, Billy Casper, Tommy Bolt, Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald.
Some of my fellow caddies were not so lucky…my buddy Sal Forlani drew an amateur, Wade Wettlaufer…another drew Frank Stranahan who all the caddies hated.
Stranahan was an odd duck. Coming from big money, he really didn’t need to play golf for a living. His family owned the Champion Spark Plug Co. out of Toledo and he was loaded. He fancied himself as a ladies man and all-around stud. He wore silk shirts with several buttons undone showing off his chest hairs. He was a body builder and strutted around flexing his muscles in front of anyone who would look. He was vain and he was difficult. He was miserable to caddy for. You couldn’t hand him a club…you had to set the bag down and allow him to select it! You had to walk on eggshells for fear you would do something to piss off Stranahan.
A kid named Chuck C. was caddying for Stranahan. Chuck caddied at Oakwood CC in Cleveland Hts...most of the caddies at Oakwood came from the Murray Hill "Little Italy" neighborhood of Cleveland...nice kids, but don't push them around.
During the Wednesday practice round Chuck had about enough of Mr. Stranahan and his shit show…he waited until they were way out on the course, then he dropped the bag and left it lay.
Me and Sal Forlani at Golden Gate Country Club in Naples, Fl...thirty years after we caddied together in the Carling Open on the PGA Tour in 1959. Sal's big brother, Danny, was the lesson pro at La Costa CC in Carlsbad, Ca. for over 30 years!
Bayer was pretty easy to caddy for but he hit it so fricking far I had to keep a close eye on the ball! He would hand me two sleeves of Macgregor Tourney balls at the beginning of the round, instructing me to give him a new ball every three holes. He would mash the ball so hard it had a flat spot! I threw the used balls in the shag bag. In fact, come to think about it, Bayer only said two things to me the entire week: “"how far we got?” and “gimme a new ball”. Bayer's best friends on Tour were Julius Boros and his brother, Ernie.
When he was around the Boros brothers, he even smiled a little bit!
Me caddying for big George Bayer on the PGA Tour in 1959.
Wish I still had that caddy badge!
The second round of the Carling we were paired with Paul Harney. Harney was a skinny little guy from Massachusetts who had dark hair with a weird gray streak right up the middle. He hit it a ton. On some holes he was out there near Bayer. We’re going along and all of a sudden Harney is making everything…ten footers, twenty footers, thirty footers. On the back nine I ask his caddy, “what’s your guy shooting?” He says, “he’s eight under!” Paul Harney ends up shooting 63 that day to take the lead in the tournament. To this day, it is the lowest round I ever saw…and I was right there next to it on every hole.
Arnold Palmer clowning around with Paul Harney
Dow Finsterwald won the tournament but I had a good week with George Bayer. We were paired with some decent pros that week: Harney, Julius Boros, Charlie Sifford, Billy Maxwell, Joe Campbell. Bayer made the cut but finished well down the money list and cashed a small check (plus his Long Drive prize money). I got paid $65 for the week…two practice rounds and four tournament rounds. I was flush! Charlie Sifford
FIRESTONE...A MAJOR STEP
The following year, in July, 1960, The PGA Championship was coming to Northeast Ohio. It was being held at a course well known by the pros and the public alike…The South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It was the second Major of the year and the hottest pro in America was gonna win it…Arnold Palmer.
Arnie had won the Masters in April finishing 3,3,3 on the final three holes and was fresh off his dramatic U.S Open win at Cherry Hills in Denver, firing 65 on the last day to come charging home from seven strokes back to take the title. All the talk was all about Palmer and The Grand Slam. Arnie’s Army was in full combat mode.
One day in June at Acacia, Dave the caddy master gave me the good news: “Randy Brown, we’re sending you to Firestone”.
Wow..I will be caddying in a Major Championship at Firestone Country Club, with Hogan and Snead and Palmer, National TV, huge galleries…this was the big time.
I was seventeen years old.
A bunch of us caddies were staying at the Akron YMCA…plush! I got to the golf course to check in and find out who my pro was…Arnold Palmer?... nah, Arnie was a big star and had his own, personal caddy by now. Sam Snead?...hope not, Snead was cheap and a prick, none of the caddies wanted Snead. Hogan?...he was 47 years old and still hit it better than anybody…maybe Casper?...Doug Sanders?...Tommy Bolt?...all the caddies liked Bolt. Last year at the Carling, Tommy broke his seven iron in a practice round and gave the entire set to his caddy! And my old buddy George Bayer was also in the field. At the check-in table they handed me my pro’s name: Bob Frainey from Glen Oaks, NY.
Every year the PGA Championship reserves several spots for club pros. It is a tradition that holds true to this day. It is the PGA’s way of thanking all the hard working club pros that are in the pro shop and on the lesson tee every day putting in long hours. They hold sectional qualifiers all over the country and the top scores get to play in the PGA Championship. Bob Frainey was a pleasant young pro with a decent game. We played two practice rounds and the first two rounds of the Championship. We were paired with other club pros, none of the big names.
He shot 79-76 to miss the cut by four shots.
I remember the South Course being in immaculate condition that week. The grounds crew mowed the the tee boxes down to green speed and cut holes in the back of the teeing area so that the pros could practice putt during the practice rounds if they had to wait on the tee! I also remember some big time moaning and whining, most notably from Sam Snead, over the 16th hole. The pros thought the green was to shallow and too small for a long par five...plus at 625 yards they could not reach it in two shots! It was then and remains today, one of the most famous holes in golf.
The galleries that week were huge, with most of the people following Arnold Palmer...as usual, he drew the biggest crowds.
I got paid and was ready to head home. It was late Friday and I needed to catch a ride. I glanced over at the huge practice area down below the first tee at Firestone. It was around 5PM…cocktail hour…the golf was over for the day. There was one lone figure down there hitting balls.
It was Ben Hogan.
I thought, dang, there’s Hogan down there all by himself. I walked down the hill and sat down on the ground behind and a little to the side of Hogan. He was hitting long irons off the hard pan. Every iron was flush, crisp, on the button. His caddy barely moved out there shagging balls. Hogan glanced over at me…I still wore my caddy bib so I was allowed inside the ropes. He paid me no never mind…just went back to his business…the golf ball hissed like a snake when it left his clubface …time after time after time. I will never forget it as long as I live.
He had made the cut in a Major Championship at 47 years of age.
Looking back from the behind shallow green toward the fairway on the famous 16th hole at Firestone CC. Across the pond to the left in the trees is where Arnold Palmer met his doom when he hit it into the ditch during the third round of the 1960 PGA Championship
Arnold Palmer didn’t win that PGA that year...Jay Hebert did, and took home the $11,000 first prize money (in 2013, Jason Dufner took home $1,445,000 first prize money for winning the PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY).
Firestone’s famous 16th hole, the 625 yard long “Monster” did in Arnie on day three when he hit it in the ditch on the right and made a triple to shoot 75.
It was a fun week for me. I got to see the best golfers in the world close up… got to caddy in a Major Championship on a world famous golf course and came face-to-face with Ben Hogan.
How good is that?
Arnie was nice enough to sign this for me
The summer of 1960 was a crossroads year for golf. Ben Hogan was on his way out, Arnold Palmer was at the peak of his powers, Jack Nicklaus was just getting warmed up.
And I was right there in the middle of it all.
PLAYING THE GAME
Tom Weiskopf as he looked in the early 1960s.
As I moved up the caddy ladder at Acacia Country Club…I also worked on my game a little. At the club, the caddies weren’t allowed to use the driving range but the pro, Jack Hubbard, let me sneak on there if nobody was around. He would give us kids a few tips and turn us loose. Acacia had a caddy team and on Mondays we would play caddy teams from the other clubs. That was how I met Tom Weiskopf.
Weiskopf caddied at Hawthorne Valley CC. one of the all Jewish clubs in NE Ohio. He was a hot stick in high school…6’2” with a long, fluid swing and a hot temper to go with it. Truth is, he was kind of a spoiled brat. But he could play and he trounced me pretty good. Funny thing is, even though Weiskopf was a good high school player there were other kids that were better. Shaker Hts. had Grant Kloppman and Earl Weiss and lots of other kids could really play. I managed to keep my homemade caddy swing under control for the most part, hitting low, running hooks, keeping it fairly straight, chipping and putting to bail me out. Of all the golf trophies I own, my favorite by far is my Second Place trophy I won on Acacia Caddy Day Championship, 1960.
I got nipped by a stroke by Leroy Johnson!
My last year in high school we had a good team…Metro League Champs! We never lost a match and place third in the District. Hey, we were good! My team mate George "Butch" Martin stayed with his game and went on to have a top amateur career, winning several big state tournaments.
My high school golf team...check out the black & white kicks...stylin!
My golf trophies from Ohio, Florida, California and Montana
After high school and my caddy days were over, I pretty much left golf behind for other pursuits. Not long after my final year of caddying, gas and electric carts came in and made my job obsolete. My brother was caddying at Acacia when the pro, Bernie Haas, broke the news..."you guys can go home, we don't need you anymore".
Caddy programs at golf courses all over the country disappeared. I became a walking dinosaur. I actually gave up golf for 15 years!
View approaching the 4th hole (#13 today) at Acacia, one of the most dramatic holes you could want.. This is probably the last photo taken of this hole before it disappears forever.
Those long-ago summer days of my teens…a time in my life I naively thought would never end and would always be there…are gone forever.
The once 450 member strong Acacia Country Club…a place that brought so much happiness and adventure to so many…will be plowed under this year to make way for a park with walking and bike trails. Membership dwindled through the years…the old country club life style fell out of favor…golf became too time consuming, too expensive, too difficult for the “Gen Xers”. Acacia was finished.
The old #2 hole at Acacia CC...one of the best par threes ever...205 yards over a ravine to a large, steep green. I was caddying one day and replaced the pin after the members putted out...as I was walking off the green I heard a thump and a yell from the group behind me. I turned around to see the ball go in for a hole-in-one! This fine hole will disappear forever after this year when Acacia shuts down.
The third hole at Acacia (#12 today)...a wonderful short par four, 321 yards with a tiny elevated green surrounded by bunkers...Donald Ross at his best. Up to the right on the knoll near the cart path in that grove of trees is where we used to forecaddy, waiting for the members to hit their drives, hiding behind the trees, hoping not to get beaned! (of course, the cart paths weren't there in those days). This is probably the last photo to be taken of this great hole before it vanishes into the landscape.
One of the last photographs to be taken of the old 16th hole, a par three of about 150 yards. I was caddying for Wally Stahl one day when he spun back a 9 iron into the hole for a one!
GONE WITH THE WIND
The Acacia clubhouse and pro shop are empty…only echoes of the past remain. The men's and women's locker rooms are abandoned...the chatter and laughter in the dining room and the tinkling of glasses in the grill room have gone silent.
The gin rummy tables are empty.
The caddy yard has long since vanished.
Faced with bankruptcy, the remaining members sold the place to the city...or to an conservation group...or to a greenspace organization...or to somebody. Whoever bought it paid the members 14 million bucks. Almost 100 years of golf tradition and history wiped out for a price tag.
The old 10th fairway, where I shagged balls for Arnold Palmer when he gave a clinic for the members in 1960, will be overgrown with crab grass and weeds. The slick, fast, creeping bent greens, where the putts would roll true and smooth forever without a bump…where I tended hundreds, maybe thousands of pins…saw hole-in ones and triple bogeys…watched hundreds maybe thousands of golfers try their luck with Bulls Eyes and Cash-Ins, Otey Crismans and Macgregors…where I caddied for Masters Champion Herman Keiser and US Open Champion Billy Burke, long-hitting Wally Stahl and the unforgettable Mrs. Donald Volk...those beautiful Donald Ross greens will slowly disappear forever and dissolve into the landscape.
They will be overgrown and taken over by myrtle or forsythias or spireas or honeysuckles...maybe thistles, goldenrod or wild grape...they will become ghosts of the past.
The majestic oak and maple and beech and shagbark hickory trees will watch over the old place. The birds will be chirping and the squirrels will be scurrying. The long summer days will slowly turn into autumn...another season will pass.
A winter chill will fill the Ohio air...
The wind off Lake Erie will rise, then fall, then go silent...
The walkers and bike riders will never know the difference...
They will wind their way through the old golf course walking their Golden Retrievers and Black Labs...pedaling their mountain bikes...talking on their I-phones....checking their portfolios.
They will be oblivious.
I still play golf. It allows me go back and relive the best days I ever had. And I am still walking the hills.
But it will never be the same.
Update: 2014...from the Cleveland Plain Dealer...
Cleveland Metro Parks acquires Acacia Country Club.
According to Park officials, "the loose plan is to erase all traces of golf and turn the land back to a heavily forested state."
I paid a visit to the old place...to see how the walking park thing was going. Entering the old club house was spooky...the large, cavernous building was empty, rooms were dark, my foot steps echoed. All the lights were out except for a dim one near the old dining room. Behind a counter near the old pro shop a short, bald guy in a suit and tie stuck his head up.
"May I help you?"
"Well, yeah...I spent every summer here over 50 years ago and just came back for a visit."
"Well, yes, just help yourself to a walk...do you have any pets?"
I made my way to the first tee...the crab grass and dandelions were taking over. I made my way down to the old caddy yard...the concrete bunker was gone but the old basketball court was still there...cracked and craven.
The old number one tee where we started our days.
Our old basketball court in the caddy yard. The bunker where we played cards and shot dice is long gone.
Number two bunker.
Number three sand trap being "filled in".
I walked down number four fairway, across the creek and up the hill to the green. A family of five was skipping down the path going the wrong way...a husband, wife, teenage girl and two tykes. Ahead of them tugging on long leashes as hard as they could came a non-descript mutt and a pit bull cross, huffing and puffing and giving me a growl as I passed.
Side view of number 4 green.
I wandered over to behind number 18 green where so many rounds finished up...some winners, some losers...all headed for the grill room, or the parking lot or a long hitch-hike home for us caddies.
The pool is buried here in front of the old cabana.
The old poolside snack bar at Acacia CC.
I looked back up the eighteenth fairway. Way back in the woods...almost invisible with the passage of time, I saw it. It was still there. Rotting, caving and forgotten...the old rain shelter was still there. I walked through the trees...stopped... to take a picture. One click.
I felt powerless and weak-kneed.
The traffic out on Cedar Rd. buzzed by...the shoppers across the street at Beachwood Mall hustled and bustled. I hung my head...then lifted it to the blue Ohio sky.
Time to say goodbye forever.