Sure, 'Caddyshack' was funny ...

Golfers at MacDill's course only laugh when it's not their wallet a raccoon is stealing.

Published February 10, 2007

TAMPA - This is a story of a golfer's lament. No, not rain or wind or pricey greens fees.

The problem here is the "stinkers" who haunt 18 otherwise placid fairways at MacDill Air Force Base.

Perhaps the raccoons on the south course at MacDill's Bay Palms Golf Complex are no different than those at golf courses around the world. Maybe they just seem like a particularly deft and talented bunch.

But some golfers swear these raccoons wait until you line up a putt before they emerge from the woods and ransack your cart.

Sure, they love their bags of chips. Candy bars. Soda cans. But leave the car keys in the golf cart at your own peril. Watches best stay on wrists, otherwise they'll be walked off into the woods. Raccoons have been known to open golf bags.

And they love purses.

"They stole two purses on the same day," says beverage cart driver Roz Schreiber, recalling a ladies tournament that ended in a massive search for the missing handbags. "We took a backhoe to search in the trees because we were afraid of snakes. We found three purses. That third one had been in there a while by the looks of it."

Joan Gust, 69, of San Antonio in Pasco County, calls them "stinkers."

Her husband, Richard, 73, says the raccoons sometimes stand on either side of a cart path and wait for someone to pass, certain of the quarry in an unattended cart.

"Nobody's taken my wallet yet," he jokes.

Just wait. Golfer Don Wolf, 67, of Wesley Chapel, remembers the guy who left his wallet lying in the open.

"All of a sudden, we heard the guy screaming, 'Stop! Stop!' The raccoon had the wallet in his mouth and was headed for the woods," Wolf says. "The guy was chasing it with a club, an iron, I think. Of course, we were dying laughing. We played through."

The offending raccoon dropped its plunder.

Bill Murphy of American Services Technology traps the raccoons when they get too aggressive, relocating them on the base. He says they're not too problematic for golfers, more an amusing distraction.

But golfers have to learn not to feed the animals, he says.

"I actually think Walt Disney did the world a disservice by portraying raccoons as cute, cuddly creatures who wash their hands before they eat," Murphy says.

Air Force Lt. Omar Villarreal plays the south course but has had little problem with the raccoons - compared to the vervet monkeys of Kenya.

Villarreal, a public affairs officer at MacDill, was assigned to Kenya for a short time last year. He played one round in the East African nation.

"You'd hit a good shot, the best shot you'd hit all day, and a monkey would run out, grab your ball and run back into the trees," he says. "You'd look at your caddy, and he'd just kind of shrug his shoulders. You'd hit a second ball. And that ball slices into the trees," hence saving the monkey a trip.

"Now the monkey has two balls," Villarreal says.

Another golfer's lament.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or 813 226-3436.