Gator chomps down on Tampa golf ball diver

TAMPA — It was at Hole 13 — the farthest point from the country club — where Dwight Monreal narrowly escaped the jaws of an alligator eager to take him down Saturday.

"It was the most frightening thing I've ever seen," said Matt Johnson, a golf cart attendant at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club, where Monreal was wading for golf balls when the gator attacked. "It's so scary to think about what would have happened … that he might not have come back."

Monreal, 62, of Port. St. Lucie is a professional golf ball diver who's been in the business for years, said his son, Zachary.

He was at the club Saturday afternoon to gather balls from the more than 14 lakes at the club like he did every two months, said Joey Zarella, the club's front desk attendant.

"He told me earlier that he didn't have his partner today," Zarella said. "There are usually two of them but today he was alone."

Johnson, who has worked at the club for two years, said everything looked fine around 4:30 p.m when Monreal waded into the lake in his scuba gear. But in a matter of seconds the 10- to 12-foot gator seized his arm and took him into a spin preparing to drag him under water.

"We rushed toward the water and the gator let go of him," Johnson said. "I like to think we scared him."

A club member called Zarella, who called for help. And Johnson and the club member brought Monreal back to the clubhouse where the ambulance and police were waiting.

Remarkably, he suffered only a dislocated left shoulder and puncture wounds to his left arm, police said.

Monreal was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where a spokeswoman said he would be released Saturday night.

Though this is not the first time a gator has been seen at the club, this is the first attack Zarella can remember.

Zarella pointed out it's gator mating season, which may explain the animal's aggression.

"He's so lucky," Zarella said. "I guess the wet suit didn't taste so good."

Hole 13 will be closed until the animal is caught and killed.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Gator chomps down on Tampa golf ball diver 04/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 10:12pm]

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