Saturday, December 15, 2007

Golf course has unusual neighbors: dolphins!

Probably the most rewarding thing about a round of golf - other than a roped 240-yard 3-wood over water to six feet - is when you are a witness to nature in action.

Dataw Island is a small coastal community near Beaufort, SC. I'm still not all that sure where it is exactly, but you pass over a bunch of bridges to get there. It's a small, friendly community where everyone waves when they pass one another on the road. The posted speed limit is 30 mph, but going any faster than 25 doesn't feel right.

The private Cotton Dike course on Dataw Island plays along an old cotton dike and saltwater marsh for about six holes. The par-5 18th, doglegging around the marsh is a beauty. Members call it a kind of an '18th at Pebble Beach of the East'. Take away the jagged rocks and crashing waves of Monterey and insert more peaceful marshland and you get the idea.

You tee off as the squeal of dolphins echo nearby. Once you're in the fairway, you can see their fins swimming around in the water.

Something totally unique to Dataw however, is that when the tide is out, the dolphins will rapidly swim around in circles (you can tell by watching their fins), then somehow trap a fish onto the muddy banks. The dolphin then wiggles itself up onto the mud, eats the fish, and rolls back into the water in search of its next meal.

It's something locals say in these marshes it's the only known place in the world dolphins practice this method. That might be debatable (right now there's probably some island boy in Fiji reading this claim and shaking his head), but it's certainly cooler to watch than a trainer feeding dead fish by hand at Sea World. At certain times of year, you can see a family of dolphins passing the trick down to their young. It makes an already great 18th hole truly special.

This is the kind of wildlife I like seeing on a golf course - not coming face to face with a giant gator. I left Dataw with a good score and $10 in winnings after a match with some members, but I think it's seeing these dolphins in the shadow of the 18th green that is a capper on what will be a round I remember for a long time.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"