Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Politics

A 'Caddyshack' controversy at a Trump golf course in L.A.: Gopher hunting

At the cliffside Trump National Golf Club near Los Angeles, golfers can enjoy an 18-hole course with striking views of Pacific Ocean bluffs and sprawling hills of green.

But the picturesque course is now the object of an investigation, and it has nothing to do with Russia.

Photos published this week in the Daily Breeze, a local newspaper, captured a man driving around the course in a golf cart while another passenger aimed some type of long gun. The paper hedged at what the "rifleman" might have been hunting, saying "a gopher or gophers" were the "likely target."

These furry little rodents can cause expensive damages to golf courses. Generally, maintenance crews can eradicate them using gopher traps and bait.

Gopher or no gopher, the Daily Breeze couldn't resist evoking the 1980 comedy Caddyshack, in which groundskeeper Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, relentlessly and haphazardly tries to wipe out gophers from a fictional Illinois golf club.

[Times files]

Bill Murray as Carl Spackler in "Caddyshack."

The identity of this mysterious gun wielder and the type of weapon he was holding, were not entirely clear either. Representatives from the golf club did not respond to requests for comment.

But the city manager in Rancho Palos Verdes told the Washington Post that city officials are investigating the incident to see if the club broke a city ordinance.

Doug Willmore, the city manager, said that Rancho Palos Verdes' city code prohibits the discharge of "any gun, revolver, pistol, firearm, spring gun, air gun, sling (or slingshot)" within city limits. It allows an exemption for those using a gun to protect farm crops — but only with a permit.

The Trump course did not get such a permit. In fact, no such permit has been issued in about 10 years, Deputy Planning Director So Kim told the Daily Breeze.

The code says a violation of that ordinance would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine or six months in jail.

Willmore told the Post the weapon was a "pellet gun," not a rifle, and that it had been wielded by a contractor — not a course employee. The Daily Breeze reported that the man with the rifle was "ostensibly" a groundskeeper.

"We're checking into it, and we'll be talking to the Trump Organization to find out the details," Willmore said.

Lt. Alise Norman of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told the Daily Breeze that she did not receive any notification from the golf club that a firearm would be used.

The county does not use guns on any of its 20 golf courses, Terry Kankari, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation told the Daily Breeze, adding that county parks and recreation staff don't use firearms in any other capacity.

Representatives from other golf courses in the area told the newspaper they were surprised to hear that someone might be using a firearm on a southern California course to get rid of rodents.

One of the club's general managers said that using weapons to eradicate gophers and other critters is more common in the Midwest and in rural areas.

Indeed, other Caddyshack critter-shooting scenarios have been reported, including some in the Midwest. A few years ago, two men were arrested after they were hired to shoot raccoons and skunks at a Wisconsin golf course. In Minnesota, a group of men were given permission to hunt geese on a golf course through an arrangement between the city and the course.

But on this Los Angeles County golf course, the photos of the weapon-wielding man and his accomplice were captured by local photographer Chuck Bennett last week. He happened to be at the golf course shooting pictures for a different assignment.

"I live on the coast so I figured I'd see if I could get the barren empty course on my drive home," Bennett told the Post. "The place is deserted."

Indeed, the Southern California golf course, located in a largely Democratic area, has seen a recent drop in business. Since Trump entered the presidential race in June 2015, revenue from greens fees at the L.A. club has dropped by 13 percent, according to figures from the city government, the Post reported last month.

"So I go to this cool overlook and see these dudes taking shots," Bennett said. He ran back to his car, grabbed a camera, and fired away, capturing the images.

Annie Donohue, 35, of Los Angeles, worked at the Trump National Golf Club for several years.

About a decade ago, she recalled learning that the head groundskeeper at the time would go around in the mornings shooting rabbits on the course.

"I remember how bad I felt when I first heard about this at work," Donohue told the Post. "He had a really sweet border collie that was always with him."

She had forgotten about the rabbits until she saw the Daily Breeze article.

"As an animal lover, it bothered me," she said, "but I wasn't surprised."

The Rancho Palos Verdes course is one of 17 Trump owns worldwide. Trump says he spent $27 million to buy this course, and $250-plus million to repair it and reopen it in 2006.

"The most expensive golf course ever built," Trump has called it, the Post reported. Unlike most other Trump clubs, it is open to the public, instead of being limited to dues-paying members.

Since Trump won the election, the club has seen its share of political protests. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that it saw someone urinate on the sign. And in March, Trump's course was vandalized by people calling themselves environmental activists, who carved into the turf the words "No More Tigers. No More Woods."

Willmore, the city manager, said it might take about a week to determine whether the golf club broke any statutes, or did anything at all.

"We'll also be looking at exact wording of our ordinances," he told the Post.

He noted that the city statute doesn't mention pellet guns specifically.

"The gophers may not know the difference," he joked.

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