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Fore! Incoming golf balls

The occasional errant golf shot is posing a hazard for motorists on the newly finished Keene Road extension.

JENNIFER FARRELL
Published May 12, 2004

CLEARWATER - Nobody cared much when wayward golf balls rained down on the dusty construction site.

But when cars replaced bulldozers on the newly finished Keene Road extension north of Drew Street, suddenly the term "errant driver" took on a whole new meaning.

Forget about ponds and sand traps. The real hazards at Clearwater Executive Golf Course are for passing motorists dodging hopelessly hooked tee shots.

In less than two months, fore, er, five, cars got plunked.

At that rate, another 30 could take blows by the end of the year.

Now worried city officials are teed off and seeking a fix.

"Safety needs to come first," Mayor Brian Aungst told the City Council last week.

But if safety means heavy black netting, like the kind you see at driving ranges, others say, keep looking.

Councilman Bill Jonson doesn't want to spoil the view along the sleek new county road, already a busy north-south thoroughfare. He thinks the nets - which typically run 50 to 60 feet high - are ugly.

"Safety is certainly most important, but let's do it in a way that at least takes into account how it will look along the road," he said. "If we have to use netting, let's use it sensibly rather than just put up some huge wall of netting with humongous poles."

Everyone agrees that a golf ball through the windshield is a recipe for disaster, especially for a car traveling 40 mph, the posted speed limit on Keene.

But pedestrians are potential targets too, for errant balls and startled drivers.

The problem, city officials say, is Hole No. 14. Its fairway runs parallel to Keene, and golfers muscling up to hit a long drive on the 360-yard, par 4 hole often send balls sailing into traffic.

The closest lane runs north-south, meaning cars nearest the tee are more likely to get hit from behind, rather than head-on. But anything is possible once balls escape the course.

"Golf balls are like Superballs when they hit concrete," said City Councilman Hoyt Hamilton. "It's scary as can be."

To help stop the problem, course managers erected a 6-foot chain link fence along the edge of Keene Road last week and will plant trees on both sides to create a natural barrier.

They also cut the 14th hole by 250 yards, reducing it to a par 3.

On Monday, some golfers said they'd prefer to see nets.

"We're losing 200 yards and it's not a long course," said Carol Welch of Clearwater. "I think a big net would be fine. So what (if) it doesn't look good?"

Welch, who plays the course every week with her father, Bruno Resteghene of Palm Harbor, said road designers should have thought about the issue before construction.

"The county should have considered it and made it a part of the cost," she said. "It's worth it."

City and county officials said this week that when the road was first designed, the city had no plans to renew its lease with the course's then-operator. After the city found a new operator to run the golf course, no plans were outlined to keep balls out of the road, they said.

Vice Mayor Frank Hibbard said he is not opposed to nets, but he said no solution is perfect.

"You're not going to stop every single golf ball," Hibbard said. "There are some geniuses that can even hit it over the nets."

- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrell@sptimes.com

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