Golfer Steve Clark watched with admiration as his playing partner's approach shot from the fairway landed just inches from the hole, leaving him a short putt for a birdie.
But when they approached the green, the golfers encountered a different kind of birdie.
"We watched in amazement as a crow swooped in and took the ball," Clark said.
Golf balls aren't the only things that are disappearing at the driving range and golf course at the Isla Del Sol Yacht & Country Club along the Pinellas Bayway.
Crows are also snatching keys, watches, cigarettes and food from the carts of unsuspecting golfers. They even eat the flowers around the club, said Blake Spencer, who works in the pro shop.
Last year, a crow swiped a pouch of jewelry from a player's cart. The pouch ended up on the roof of Building D in Casa del Mar, said Dorothy Hoy, a resident of Playa Escondida since 1980 and an original member of the country club.
But the crows' favorite loot seems to be golf balls. They like both the smaller, lighter balls on the driving range and the larger, heavier balls they pilfer from the fairways and greens.
Yellow balls don't stand a chance, say some players, while others say the crows seem to prefer Titleist Pro V1s, one of the more expensive brands. Holes 6, 7, 12 and 16 seem to be the crows' favorite hangouts, Hoy said.
It's unclear why the crows at Isla have taken to swiping golf balls.
"Crows are kind of strange like that," said Don Margeson, coordinator for the St. Petersburg Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. "Fish crows are prevalent in south Pinellas County, and they're mischievous. They build big nests in pine trees and they like to raid other birds' nests."
"They're mistaking them for eggs," said Dino Anasri, the country club's superintendent.
Most of the balls wind up in the palm trees that line the course, he said. When landscapers recently trimmed a palm near the club's guest lounge, 30 balls fell to the ground.
Some balls have been found in palm trees in nearby Pass-a-Grille and in the Gulf of Mexico.
But not everyone agrees with Anasri's egg theory.
"At this point, they know it's not an egg," said John Quinn, an assistant pro at the club. "They know spite. It's become a game."
Isla Del Sol isn't the only course with a crow problem.
For more than five years, crows have been tearing up the greens at Treasure Bay Golf & Tennis in Treasure Island.
"When we change the cup location, the crows go to the previous spot and tear the turf right off the top," said Kevin Fairchild, superintendent at Treasure Bay. "They're the bane of my existence because they can do so much damage so fast," he said.
"They're little kleptomaniacs. They like shiny things, said Fairchild, who said he has exhausted all options to rid the course of the birds.
"We've tried all sorts of goofy things, including goose repellent and crushed red pepper. Some experts have suggested fireworks, but who are they kidding?"
Migratory birds are protected, Margeson said. "My advice would be to call the Fish and Wildlife Commission and ask is there are any successful solutions," he said.
Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 893-8874.