TARPON SPRINGS — Players at the city-run golf course will have a few extra holes to contend with after police say two men drove a pickup truck onto the property, spun doughnuts in the grass, then stole a flag from green No. 4.
City officials say the Friday morning incident caused $15,000 to $30,000 worth of damage, including bald spots, ruts and broken sprinkler heads along three fairways and two greens on the golf course's southwest corner.
Tarpon Springs police arrested Lucas Daniel Cowden, 18, of Palm Harbor and Donald Everitt Ball Jr., 20, of Tarpon Springs about 45 minutes after a witness reported the 12:30 a.m. incident and followed the pair as they drove off, reports show.
Both men admitted they were on their way home to drink a six-pack of beer authorities found stashed under the front passenger seat, reports say. Police say Cowden told them he passed the course on the way and "thought it would be a good idea" to joyride there.
Cowden was charged with felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor counts of petit theft and possession of alcohol by a minor. He posted $5,400 bail about 10:30 a.m. Friday. Ball, charged with acting as an accessory after the fact and underage alcohol possession, posted $5,250 bail about three hours later.
City officials said the incident could affect revenue and business operations for months.
"The problem with it is the time of year. The grass has really slowed down its growing and it'll continue to be even slower in the cold months, so it's not a good time for turf to mend itself," said Tarpon Springs public services director Paul Smith. "We're going to be in a prolonged damage situation until the growing picks up again in the spring."
Meanwhile, course general manager Chuck Winship said staff and patrons are "working around" the damage, allowing golfers to pick up and move balls when needed to avoid ruts as deep as 8 inches in some places.
The pranksters struck hours before 80 golfers embarked on Day 2 of a three-day annual golf tournament, delaying officials' ability to fully assess the damage. That's in addition to the 200 patrons a day expected to stop by this weekend.
Winship said officials had already planned to close the course to the public Monday through Wednesday for turf maintenance, and will now use the time to determine a course of action.
Possible options might include changing the shape of the 112-acre course to exclude the damaged portion from the putting surface or upping golf prices to help cover repair costs, Smith said.
He said the city will also consider erecting temporary barriers along the adjacent vacant lot the suspects used to access the course. In a final stroke of bad timing, city officials who are attempting to sell the lot said they had only recently mowed the foliage that would otherwise have blocked the way.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.