Golf Travel Tips That Can Save Your Life

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I'll never forget my first time playing golf in Mississippi.

After the round, one of the course rangers said:

"Man, you're crazy to stomp around in these woods looking for your golf ball. Aren't you worried about all the [deadly] Cottonmouth snakes in there?

I don't remember my response because my mind was screaming, "Now you tell me!"

And that's the point of today's tip:

There are many popular golf destinations with wildlife issues -- even if it's relentless insects during certain months -- but it's usually assumed you're aware of the risks and how to avoid being bitten, stung...or eaten.

So, want to avoid winding up in the emergency room...or worse?

Alligators in Cancun, Mexico (and Florida, South Carolina, etc.)

Not sure if you caught the headlines a few months back, but there were two alligator attacks in as many months at the Iberostar Cancun Golf Club in Mexico. One man lost two fingers and another's leg was shredded when an alligator (possibly the same one) lunged out of the bushes and attacked them. My advice? Make a lot of noise (yell, clap your hands, etc.) before looking for a ball off the fairway, and assume ANY roped off areas are dangerous, even if there's no written notice.

Fire Ants in Florida (and other parts of the Southeast)

As tempting as it might be, don't kick or otherwise disturb any anthill you see with tiny red ants milling around it. These pests have a way of latching on to your shoes, club, etc., and before you know it, they're crawling all over you. And one bite from these pests and you'll know why they call them Fire Ants.

Scorpions, Rattlesnakes, and Cacti in Arizona

If you're looking for your ball off the fairway in the desert, it's possible to stumble upon scorpions and rattlesnakes (especially if you're rooting around rocks and such). While most are not deadly, my understanding is that a sting or bite can still make you pretty sick. As for the cacti, don't go near the Jumping Cholla, even if you can see and hit your ball. The slightest touch and you've got a real problem with this plant's fishhook-like barbs.

Greenhead Flies in Southern New Jersey

Not every pest is poisonous of course; some are just painful and beyond irritating. For example, everyone from my hometown area knows about the dreaded Greenhead flies that show up in summer at certain golf courses near the beach. You can swat at them all you want, but they keep coming back. And when they eventually bite you, it feels like a needle and leaves a welt.

Black Flies in Massachusetts (and many other parts of the USA)

No, flies are not only a New Jersey thing. I have friends in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania who say the Black Flies that typically show up there between May and July are also ferocious. Be sure to ask around if the golf course/resort you're planning on visiting has problems with these bloodsuckers, and plan accordingly.

Do you have any local knowledge about how and when to avoid harmful or irritating golf course wildlife?

Please share your thoughts or read what others are saying below.

Mar 05, 2014

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Matt's avatar
Matt wrote at 2015-01-07 17:30:21+00:00:

Never drink from an open can on the golf course, for that matter outside. I have known two people who did, one drinking cola, and the other beer. Both were stung by bees/hornets. One died from asphyxiation, due to swelling in the mouth throat areas; the other thought he was having a heart attack and learned at the emergency room he had swallowed a hornet, and it had stung him in his throat/lung area. That is why most courses serve beverages from iced cups with lids!

For the gnats in PA and the Sand Fleas in NJ try dryer sheets...rub them over the bill of your hat on the underside to keep them out of your eyes...they are seeking moisture. The smoke from cigars is effective also.

John Roper's avatar
John Roper wrote at 2015-01-07 05:19:58+00:00:

Come and play some of the courses in South Africa. Depending which course every thing from snakes, hippos, lions, crocodiles, monkeys, baboons (Sun City million dollar) and plenty of zebras. You name we have it.

Best advice is keep the ball where the lawn mower goes and you will be OK.

None's avatar
None wrote at 2014-04-07 19:05:49+00:00:

Mosquitoes in South Florida in July and August. Gotta wear long pants, and mosquito repelant for your exposed arms.

Tom's avatar
Tom wrote at 2014-03-19 15:07:25+00:00:

My wife and I were playing at Ravenna Golf Club in Littleton, CO last year and as we were leaving the clubhouse the pro said to us, "did anybody tell you about the Mountain Lion near #2 ?" Not only was he NOT kidding, but when leaving the 2nd hole and heading to #3 we practically ran into a deer on the cart path. Let's just say we were a little startled !

Ed B.'s avatar
Ed B. wrote at 2014-03-14 15:46:06+00:00:

Hey fellow duffers - watch out for the snakes in Guernwood, Ca. Northwood is a great place to play long greens. But there is diamond back Timber rattlers here. I have seen one right close to my ball at the 4th hole. These snakes will not bother you unless you cross their path. We do have paper wasps in the trees, an scorpions under rocks.

Life is dangerous so are live balls flying the wrong way!

Mark's avatar
Mark wrote at 2014-03-10 20:15:45+00:00:

Ditto on the no-seeums, S.Carolina in the Spring--they itch worse than any ivy.

Black flies in the adirondacks in Spring--(May-June) There is no spray/cigar etc. to combat these blood drawing critters..

JD's avatar
JD wrote at 2014-03-07 14:38:20+00:00:

Pretty much the same here in Oklahoma as in Texas; with the addition of chiggers.

Mark's avatar
Mark wrote at 2014-03-07 13:20:26+00:00:

No-see-ums (Small flesh eating knats) are also a problem in S.C. around Kiawah and other courses in the area. Birds are a problem in Oklahoma around Altus and Lawton. They will literally attack you if you're too close to their nest.

Mark's avatar
Mark wrote at 2014-03-07 13:15:46+00:00:

In Texas they have ground so hard in the rough it will break your wrist. In Guam and the Pacific Islands they have coral on the sides of the fairway that will literally cut through your club; I have scars to prove it.

David's avatar
David wrote at 2014-03-06 23:39:44+00:00:

If you play in the Northeast, ticks are a real problem. I contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite while in Martha's Vineyard. Luckily, I caught it and got treated. Not treated, you can have lifelong nervous system damage. Be ultra careful if playing at a course with fescue, heather or other high grasses.

Jack Hartman's avatar
Jack Hartman wrote at 2014-03-06 09:38:32+00:00:

When my wife and lived in Kenya we were members at Windsor Golf Club, a beautiful layout carved thru the jungle and bordered by rolling tea estates. Therein lies the problem. Cobras lived in the forest and we'd see them while just walking down the fairway on occasion. They weren't a problem provided you saw them first and gave them the right of way. The tea estates were home to mambas that may or may not be so cooperative about right of way, but we never encountered them. A caddy we heard about was not so lucky. I did have a very painful experience with ants there that required undressing and shaking off the ants on the third hole. It didn't occur to either me or my caddy that we would encounter ants while retrieving my 3 iron from a low hanging tree branch (learned a great lesson about throwing clubs that day). Snakes and crocs could also be a problem in South Africa and in Zim we saw an elephant on the fairway which will immediately put a stop to play as they usually could care less about letting people play through.

Larry's avatar
Larry wrote at 2014-03-06 07:01:11+00:00:

In California, the Oleander Bush is a major Landscape element on and off golf courses. If a players ball goes into an Oleander Bush forget about finding it. Declare it lost and invoke Rule 27 Stroke and Distance.

If a player does decide to locate the ball always bring a club and reach in only as far as to not get scratched.

Oleanders are very toxic and searching for a golf ball may result in a visit to an ER where hopefully the player can be saved.

Jim Teehan's avatar
Jim Teehan wrote at 2014-03-06 03:25:50+00:00:

The most dangerous animal of all - sandbaggers!!!!

Thomas Crockett's avatar
Thomas Crockett wrote at 2014-03-06 02:07:15+00:00:

I played BAY HILL just outside Orlando back in 1961-1964 when it first opened, and they actually issued aluminum chaps for you to wear In the deep rough because there were so many rattlesnakes. I was an AF officer stationed at Orlando AFB.

Jenny Lyn's avatar
Jenny Lyn wrote at 2014-03-06 00:12:17+00:00:

In Alaska it is bear and moose that you watch out for.

Fran's avatar
Fran wrote at 2014-03-06 00:03:47+00:00:

Gnats in the Northeast US are neither dangerous or venomous but they are a pain to put up with while playing golf. They are out in late Summer (August, September) and clouds of them form. Thye fly in your eyes, ears and nose making it almost impossible to drain an eight footer to win that twenty dollar nasau.

Doug's avatar
Doug wrote at 2014-03-05 23:33:33+00:00:

Playing Falcon Lake GC in Eastern Manitoba one of our guys hit his ball in the bush and went looking for it. We all went to the green and waited. A minute later a big Black bear came bounding down the fairway then cut into the bush at the same place our buddy had gone in 5 minutes before. We started yelling for him then amazingly he came out of the bush 100 yards further down totally oblivious what had just happened.

In Savannah playing a tournament hit my ball over the green into dense brush and went looking (and not thinking) startling a small gator hiding behind tall grass. We both ran in opposite directions.

In New Orleans hit a tee shot in to the river and my playing partner said don't even think about going in to get it (it was right beside the bank in a foot of water) Stuck my club in to try and scoop it out when something bit my club from under the shelf of the river bank. Never saw what it was but my local golf partner said it was most likely a snake.

Then of course there are the mosquitoes in Canada and ticks and black flies fox Crows that steal balls and beautiful scenery.

Jeff's avatar
Jeff wrote at 2014-03-05 23:32:44+00:00:

Come & try your luck in Australia!

None's avatar
None wrote at 2014-03-05 23:26:57+00:00:

In the northeast (particularly in New Jersey where I play)I would add geese - not because they are dangerous (though they are very territorial) - but rather because of the enormous amount of crap (literally) that they leave behind. (Approx. 1lb. per goose per day) while the geese may not be dangerous - their leavings harbor a host of diseases.

Mark. S.

Joan's avatar
Joan wrote at 2014-03-05 23:21:54+00:00:

Although not seen, chiggers are a huge problem when looking for your ball in tall grassy areas. They don't show up for a week or so but by then they are under the skin and iching like crazy. They are found everywhere, prevalent in summer months. Scratching can cause infections. They are difficult to get rid of.

Greg's avatar
Greg wrote at 2014-03-05 23:10:34+00:00:

up here in the canadian rockies we have to be concerned with the momma grizzly and her cubs...other than that it might be the odd wolf and moose that comes passing by...

Steve's avatar
Steve wrote at 2014-03-05 22:25:39+00:00:

Add Javelinas and Coyotes to the list of creatures to be wary of in Arizona, especially during early morning or late afternoon rounds. While generally docile If given a wide berth, both will not hesitate to chase you if they are disturbed. If you're looking for your ball in the desert and smell a skunklike ordor, be forewarned that Javelinas are about!

Richard Plattner's avatar
Richard Plattner wrote at 2014-03-05 22:25:39+00:00:

For Arizona: Cactus: keep a pocket comb on your person or in your bag when playing a desert course. It's the only good way to get cholla out of your leg (for example) without getting stuck dozens of more times on your hands. For snakes: always take an iron when you go off the grass into the scrub. Use the club to pull your ball out from under bushes so you don't have to reach in with your hands. You'll probably never see or hear a snake -- but if you do, point the club at the snake while you back away from it. This may distract it, and if it does strike it's likely to strike at the club. The snake won't chase you, so just back away. Don't try to kill or capture the snake. If someone is bitten, try to get a photo of the snake; it will help the folks at the hospital select the best treatment option.

Jim H's avatar
Jim H wrote at 2014-03-05 22:22:57+00:00:

I got chased by a swarm of bees on my local course in So. California. I thought I was going to have to dive into a water hazard to escape.

Spanky McShameous's avatar
Spanky McShameous wrote at 2014-03-05 22:18:17+00:00:

Dave Eldman. Really? Tempted to pick up ANY snake, even cute and little??

jim harrigan's avatar
jim harrigan wrote at 2014-03-05 22:14:41+00:00: wouldn't know satire if it bit you...chickens...

Stuart Smtih's avatar
Stuart Smtih wrote at 2014-03-05 22:04:55+00:00:

Awesome post! I've been on several golf courses with dive-bombing birds that I'm guessing were protecting their nests. When I mention it back in the pro shop, it's usually, "yes, we're aware of it." Well, how about a heads up for your customers!

Bill's avatar
Bill wrote at 2014-03-05 22:01:09+00:00:

Come to Texas, we have fire ants, mosquitos, copper heads, cotton mouths, water moccasins, rattlesnakes, scorpions, Africanized bees, brown recluse spiders and various other critters to deal with while playing golf.

Jim's avatar
Jim wrote at 2014-03-05 21:30:50+00:00:

Mosquitoes on northern Minnesota courses. Enough said if you have ever played on a course shortly after a rain.

Dave Eidman's avatar
Dave Eidman wrote at 2014-03-05 21:28:44+00:00:

Pygmy rattle snakes at Streamsong.

These little guys are tiny and cute. You'll be tempted to pick one up should you see it slithering around on the green. Well, don't! One bite and you're in for a world if hurt. They are mean and venemous. You've been warned.

Brian's avatar
Brian wrote at 2014-03-05 21:21:07+00:00:

On my first trip to Hilton Head many moons ago, I pulled into the Shipyard Plantation and saw my first gator. I asked the security at the front gate about it, and he laughed at me (knowing I was from the north-east) and said they are "friendly", and as long as you don't attack them, they won't attack you. The Starter had this gem of information for us, "If you find yourself being chased by a gator, run in zig-zag directions, they are quick, but cannot change direction". We all got a kick out of that. It was true though, they were never a nuisance and provided for some very cool and now classic pictures of one of our first buddy trips.

The other animal Id add to this list is "Ticks", specifically Deer Ticks in the northeast. They are a silent danger, and in many cases, you will not know one has found it's way onto you. If you are in the woods at all, I suggest doing a very thorough examination during your post-round shower. Your hair is a common place for them to go, but you really have to check "everywhere". Limes Disease is brutal, my father got it and after see what it did to him, I'll warn everyone I come across who isn't aware of the very large danger such a small insect can cause.

Fun read...nice change from the norm, and one that is a great topic for the traveling golfer. You are always in someone else's territory when you travel, ESP golf courses because they are almost always built around native animal habitats.

Dave brunton's avatar
Dave brunton wrote at 2014-03-05 21:15:04+00:00:

In Scotland they have vicious little beasts known as "midgies" also known in parts of Canada as noseeums. Those little beggars can really bite and they get everywhere. The west coast of Scotland in August and September is worst.

Also "poison oak" or poison ivy. I remember playing Indian Canyons in Spokane and wandering into the bush only to be alerted by my local playing partner.

Craig Better

Staff Writer

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine,, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.