Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine, California almost burned to the ground a few days ago. A golfer made a bad swing and hit a rock that sent out some sparks that ignited the surrounding grass. 25 acres burned before the fire was contained by 150 Orange County Firefighters.
People ask me all the time where I get material. Sometimes it just writes itself.
But wait. The unnamed golfer said he hit a rock that created sparks that started the fire? Hmmm. There is also the possibility he was grabbing a smoke and threw down a butt and didn't stomp it out all the way.
Jared was like that. He's a course rat up at Lost Canyons– the kind of guy with vague sources of income that hang around the course all day. The marshals regularly told him NOT TO SMOKE ON THE COURSE. He obliged by waiting until he was out of sight of the clubhouse to light up. That may seem fairly harmless until you consider Lost Canyons winds through the Santa Susana mountains located in Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles. A fire would be devatasting.
Throughout the round Jared would sneak smokes. "Heads up right!" he would yell to unsuspecting gophers and deer as he drove another ball into the shadows of a canyon. I got the feeling he was hitting them into the scrub off the fairways just so he had more visual cover from the marshal. He could not go more than two holes before he had to light up another smoke. He had a system– he would grind out the cigarette on the ground and then pick up the butt and drop it into a little cup he had built on the inside of his golf bag near the clubs.
A couple of years ago we were teeing off on a bright Sunday morning. There are no homes surrounding the course so you feel like you are away from civilization even though the 118 freeway is just down the road. Halfway down a long par 5, Jared huddled behind his cart to light up yet another smoke. From somewhere in the shadows of the trees, a marshal appeared heading full tilt toward Jared's smoking site.
"Jared! Are you smoking?" the marshall yelled, his voice echoing down the canyon.
Jared flinched like his daughter just told him her college tuition was going to cost $70,000 a year. "No, sir. Just trying to decide on a club. Woo… let's see…" The marshal drove off in the other direction as Jared mulled over his shot. Finally he lashed a three-metal down the fairway. He nervously got in his cart and sped off.
That's when I noticed the smoke billowing out of his golf bag. In his haste and surprise he had tossed his cigarette right into the bag itself. The smoke was getting thicker and thicker. He looked like a mini choo-choo train from a Saturday morning cartoon. "Jared!" I yelled. "Your bag is on fire!"
He waved me off as he hurtled across the tarmac. His ball was resting just short of the pond fronting the green. He slammed on the brakes and jumped out. By now the smoke looked like a chimney on a steel mill from Youngstown around 1978. Instinctively he unlashed the bag and threw it on the ground. He took two steps, picked up the whole bag in one smooth motion and launched it high in the air. The clubs flew out the top as the bag did a slow helicopter spin before splashing down in the pond, sinking to the bottom.
He looked at me and said, "Got a smoke?"