Second in a Series
About four months ago in these pages, we reported on a trip this reporter took with well-known developer T. Earl Gerbley to Persimmon Spires at Poking Buffalo Lake...the sacred Chockasoutauk Indian site. The sight of the natural granite wonder of three Persimmon Spires towering over Poking Buffalo Lake surrounded by the mountains, streams, and grassy meadows was truly awe inspiring.
The careful reader might recall front page news stories, in the last few months, reporting on Gerbley's legal battles over his plans for the development of this spectacular, sacred site. Here's a quick rundown:
Last week, I received a call from the T. Earl Gerbley Land Development Corporation. Gerbley's Administrative Assistant, Maude Morass, called to invite me to spend a day at Persimmon Spires to see the progress that was being made. As Morass said, reading from her telemarketing card, "We are leveling land, knocking down trees and raising buildings faster than you can say 'how much is a membership?'" I laughed. She continued. "T. Earl wants an unbiased eye to look at what he's done and report to the people who are gonna want to tee it up next Spring out there." I called in sick to work and drove out the next day.
Let me say, the changes to the area are breathtaking. Gone is the rutted gravel road leading through the windbreak trees to the sacred meadow beside the lake. A four-lane asphalt road now leads you off of State Route 13 and onto the Chockasoutauk reservation. It winds past the Tribal Tax-Free Cigarette Shop in the doublewide next to Eagle Beak Creek where the road narrows to two lanes as it crosses a new bridge, and descends along the edge of bluffs overlooking Poking Buffalo Lake.
I had the feeling of being airborne as I drove into the valley, looking at the scenery below. Workers, looking ant-like, were everywhere. A giant clubhouse stood where the old stand of ancient windbreak trees once had dominated the landscape. The three huge granite outcroppings known as Persimmons Spires cast long shadows over the area. Even as I stopped the car near the Foreman's trailer and got out, trees fell, buildings rose. Change was in the air.
T. Earl Gerbley came out of the trailer, smiling. He was carrying a hard hat. "Fire in the hole!" I reached out to shake his hand. His smile faded. He yelled. "Fire in the hole!" as he slammed the yellow plastic hat on my head. An explosion rocked the earth. Small rocks splattered around us. A haze of dust billowed past. I coughed. Gerbley patted me on the back. "We're clear! Glad you could make it. What do you think? Wait, don't answer. Let me show you what we've done."
Over the next hour, Gerbley led me past a dizzying array of partially completed projects.
Of course, the most important project for readers of this column is the golf courses which are being constructed as this is written. Both layouts have been graded and sculpted by huge earth-moving machines. You may recall the controversy several months ago, when Native American groups heard of plans to relocate several prehistoric burial mounds. Gerbley explained the situation this way: "We listened to their silly complaints. But, you have to understand, the mounds were in the middle of the third fairway - and some that weren't actually on the golf course were on some pretty nice home sites. And, if that lake doesn’t drain off entirely, some mounds were blocking some potentially gorgeous views. So, I think we came up with a great idea. Actually, it was my wife's idea. Rather than bulldoze the things outright, we took extra care to carefully blade off about 5-feet at a time. We put everything in a dump truck - and rebuilt the mounds into one HUGE mound, over in the wetlands area near Bison Ear Brook. It’s a ‘win-win.’”
A distant yell of "fire in the hole" made us both tighten the chin straps as the large "BAM" was followed by another rain of small rocks and dust. "Where's that coming from." I ask?
Gerbley pointed toward the top of the middle Persimmon Spire. "We're trying to flatten that one a little - so we can build a tee for the first hole up there. It's gonna be spectacular."
As I left this incredible, new, high-end development, it was clear progress is moving full-speed-ahead. What isn't so clear: How that 12-pound chunk of granite put a hole in the roof of my car and ended up in the passenger seat.
First in a Series
Golf is a game of ability, skill, strategy and rules. It’s this heady mix that keeps most of us guessing from takeaway to impact and beyond. That’s why, from time to time, this column is happy to take time away from digging up the hard news surrounding our golfing life here in Traylor County; and, spend some quality time getting answers from area Golf Professionals to questions you have posed. So, let’s dig into the mailbag!
Randy Atwater of Plunkwater Village asks: “Clarification please: Let’s say I hit a drive on the third hole at Traylor Park Golf Course, the one that runs along Old Hiway 13. And, let’s say the ball slices over the big hickory tree and goes through the windshield of an oncoming truck owned by Otto Brockmeier. Who is responsible for repairing the damage? I did yell “fore.” Also, he never gave my ball back.”
Since Traylor Park Golf Course owner and Head Pro Legolas Demott was unavailable for comment, on advice from his attorney, we went to Hooking Hills Head Pro Bix Wilstrup.
“The law is pretty clear on this one! If you are not seen to have hit the ball, and do not step forward to take responsibility, then you are not - legally - responsible; unless proven guilty in a court of law. Our Golf course is quite clear on this. If a golfer hits a ball off the golf course and breaks something, it is definitely not our fault. Beyond that, well, it would be nice if the guy would return the golf ball. But, my guess is, once this is in the paper, getting his ball back will be the least of your problems.”
Trace Groglin of Tilda’s Bend writes: “After throwing a golf club, what is the proper etiquette?”
Plunker Falls Golf Tennis and Gun Club Assistant Golf Pro, Dan Didler provides the answer:
“It depends. There are several levels of club throwing that require different remedies:
From Alison Pollack of Chesterville Bottoms: “I am at the age where I find that I am easily offended by things that never bothered me when I was younger, nicer and easier to be around. One thing that really bothers me is practicing my golf game. Can you please tell me the best way to lower my handicap - without wasting time on the practice tee?”
For that answer, we turn to Professional D. Ray Yoinkers of Woodstone CC at Horehound Landing:
“This is a question a lot of Amateurs ask. My best answer is to do what it seems they do: Don’t count all your shots. When you report a lower score than you actually shot, you will, over time, lower your handicap. Depending on the actual difference in real score and ‘handicap score,’ the drop in your handicap can be significant. Following this simple plan eliminates hours of practice time - giving you more time to be irritated and upset about other things that are also unimportant. Beware, however, if you enter a tournament and your teammates expect you to play somewhere near the number on your handicap card. Often, this problem results in beer-fueled arguments and black eyes. In this case, be ready with a solid excuse like: “I’ve had to modify my swing a little since I had my wrist and tonsils replaced.” However, for best results, do what everyone else does - fudge the score just a little in your favor. You won't look quite as stupid.”
Our thanks to the area Golf Professionals and to our readers for this thoughtful exchange of questions and answers. Let’s keep the flow of information going! Send your questions to:
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know
Persimmon Pines Times
First in a Series...
Developer T. Earl Gerbley points to the planned location for the 20,000 sq. ft. Olive Garden restaurant for his new golf course development on sacred tribal lands. (Sacred Persimmon Spires loom in the background.)
Persimmon Spires at Poking Buffalo Lake...the name, alone, inspires visions of spectacular mountains and bucolic settings balanced along the shoreline of this pristine and sacred Chockasoutauk Tribal site just 30 minutes west of Persimmon Pines via State Route 13. Of course, because it is a sacred site, few of us of non-Native American ancestry have been privileged to see the area; unless we took one of the $40 mule-ride tours of the area led by Chockasoutauk guides and only offered on weekends during the summer.
So, imagine this Reporter's surprise, a few days ago, when well-known area golfer and land developer T. Earl Gerbley contacted me to ask if I would like to accompany him on a trip to this sacrosanct natural wonderland. He said he wanted to show me something. Or, to quote him exactly: "I want you to be the first to watch me point at the stuff I’m going to knock down and tear out for a new golf course development that are gonna blow your socks off!"
We made the drive out of town last Thursday afternoon in Gerbley's Mercedes. Our guide was Proudfoot Dibbledick, Chockasoutauk Tribeperson and Natural History Professor at Traylor County Community College. As we turned off Old Broadway Extension, onto Route 13, the Developer put his right arm over the back of the passenger seat and slouched sideways - steering with only the first finger of his left hand. He looked in the rearview mirror to make eye contact. "Of all the land I've had a hand in leveling and reshaping to my liking, I have never been more excited about a project than this one." We swerved slightly across the yellow line as Gerbley tousled the hair of Professor Dibbledick. "And, this guy is the one who is making it possible. He went to bat for me with the Elders of the Chockasoutauk Nation at their annual tribal meeting over at their Casino in Looseneck Falls last month. And, by ‘to bat,’ you know what I mean!” Gerbley rubbed his thumb and forefinger together in a way that seemed to suggest something untoward.
Dibbledick smiled sheepishly. "My role in all this is fairly small. I simply presented the elders with the visions, philosophy, spreadsheets and bag of money Mr. Gerbley gave me. But, I'm glad to be onboard as an advisor to Mr. Gerbley. You know, so we can preserve the Chockasoutauk heritage as we provide public access to our reservation and an area our religion and tribal customs have always been off-limits to outsiders. Some say, for good reason.”
We slid back in our seats momentarily when Gerbley floored the Mercedes and blew the horn as we slipped over the double yellow, around a slow-moving pickup, just ahead of an oncoming coal truck. "So Professor," I managed after catching my breath, "tell me about Persimmon Spires."
Dibbledick paused a moment to collect his thoughts as his boss steered into the slide. "Well, as a Natural History teacher, I can tell you that Persimmon Spires is a natural granite formation created over millennia by the forces of erosion, wind and water. Agronomists insist the three, perfectly sculpted rocky outcroppings look exactly like huge persimmons. So, it was probably this amazing resemblance to the very fruit which sustained my ancestors that caused them to conclude this was a holy place."
Dust filled the car as we skidded onto the reservation's gravel road. I asked how the lake got its name. The Developer was quick to answer. "I know that one! When the Braves went out to hunt buffalo, they'd force 'em down the Chumtaw Crick toward the shore of the lake where the women would be waiting with spears."
"Poking Buffalo Lake." I weighed each word carefully.
Gerbley chuckled. “If you’re a buffalo, you’d best be leaving…” The anti-lock brakes stopped the car in a straight line as the gravel dust billowed. The Developer flung his car door open. “…because, we’re here!"
We got out of the Mercedes under the awe-inspiring spectacle of Persimmon Spires. I have lived here all my life. But, like most Persimmon Pineseans, had only seen the Spires in vacation brochures published by the Chamber of Commerce...never in person. They do, in fact, look like three perfectly sculpted 200 foot long persimmons - standing on end. Just beyond lies the unspoiled beauty of Poking Buffalo Lake. Proudfoot Dibbledick turned his palms skyward and seemed to offer a silent prayer to the long-dead spirits of his ancestors. Gerbley patted him on the back. "We'll put pictures of Indian chiefs in the golf course pro shop...which we'll build right over there where that burial mound is now."
Over the next 45 minutes, Gerbley walked us through his designers plan to "improve the natural flow of the environment by imbedding architectural creations that will illuminate the landscape and create vistas heretofore unknown to those who, until recently, held sole title to this land. Because, you know, I want to do right by these folks.”
The plans are quite impressive. Thumbnail sketch: Three Championship golf courses - a marina with access to the Plunker River 500 feet below via private lock-controlled canal - 50,000 square foot club house and four gourmet restaurants open to the public - including a 20,000 square foot Olive Garden - requested by Chockasoutauk leaders. “Turns out, Tribal leaders like the idea of all-you-can-eat bread-sticks,” smiled Gerbley.
Yet, I had to ask myself...and later, T. Earl Gerbley himself, “Since you seem to be saying you paid Tribal Leaders to get this deal to build a luxury golf community on their holiest site, do you think there will be any legal issues in the future?”
Gerbley smiled and pointed to Proudfoot Dibbledick. “He gave ‘em the bag. I wasn’t even there!” As the Professor turned a pale green, the Developer took me by the shoulder. “Come on - let me show you where I’m gonna build the water park and go cart track!”
As he looks out the cracked window of the old Airstream trailer, Junior Errands, Jr. takes a last long pull on his dying Cigarillo. Outside, spotlights dangle from three well-worn telephone poles - highlighting a hailstorm of Golf balls as they fly into the night.
"Ask what you want. But, hurry up." He turns toward me and glares. "I'm busy." Smoke curls out of his mouth as he tosses the butt into an old fertilizer can behind the counter, grabs a piece of Nicorette and turns to face his newest customer at Errands Pick-Your-Own Golf Range.
Errands is the son of Junior Errands, Sr. - the man who, 20 years ago, turned a vacant lot next to the County Dump into Traylor County's only stand-alone driving range. "Big or small?" The customer, a young man in his late teens, looks confused. Errands, irritated now, picks up two canvas bags - one smaller than the other. "Ya'll can fill up this one for 10-bucks: or, this less-big bag for 8 bucks." The customer takes a moment to ponder. Errands presses on: "Or, for and even $20, ya'll can have both bags side-by-each." Salesmanship!
The kid nods and pulls out a twenty. "Both." He reaches for the bags. But, Errands pulls the bags out of reach quickly. "Sign here, first." He slaps a legal-looking document on the counter. The kid looks as confused as I feel. Errands explains: "It's just some lawyer stuff. No big deal." The kid nods, signs - initials in three places - and grabs the bags. "Ya'll wear these, too." Errands shoves a dented bicycle helmet and an orange life vest across the counter. I try not to make eye contact as the teen picks up his gear and heads out. As the trailer door slams, Errands calls out helpfully: "Try and keep a hand up in front of your all's face."
As others smack range balls into the night sky, the young man straps on his protective gear; and, cautiously steps out into the storm of rocketing Golf balls. The first few steps are tentative. But, soon, he's striding through the barrage as if he's walking in a light rain shower - balls bounce off his head and chest like bullets off Superman. Is he laughing? He is! And, so is everybody back on the tee.
Things seem to be okay. I turn back to the Golfing Entrepreneur. "So, where did you get the idea for a pick-your-own driving range?" Junior smiles and spits out his gum as he slides another Cigarillo from his shirt pocket.
"See, everybody thinks owning a driving range is all money. And, it ain't bad money. But, the problem is, after the knuckleheads hit the balls and whatnot, I gotta go out and, whatchacallit, pick 'em up. In this business, you gotta have balls. But, pickin' up golf balls ain't no way for a businessman like me to make a living."
"So, you decided to let your customers do your work for you?"
A barrage of at least ten balls hits the kid at about the same time. There's a roar of laughter from all the guys on the tee. Junior snickers. "You got it! See, after people hit all my balls, I don't want to pick 'em up. But, somebody's got to. Right? Might as well be the customer. They're the ones wanna hit my balls."
Makes sense. But, as more balls bounce off the kid in the bicycle helmet and life vest, I have to ask: "Is everybody up there on the tee trying to hit that guy?"
Errands lights up and nods. "Everybody gets their turn in the barrel." A line-shot bounces off the kid's thigh. He drops to one knee as several of the balls he's retrieved trickle back onto the ground. He scrambles to grab the balls as more range balls streak in from the tee to find their target. I'm awed. "These guys are good!"
A slight smile escapes Errands' lips. "They're finding the range now. Watch." The kid's glasses fly into the night sky and his belt buckle is sheared off. His shorts drop to his ankles. More laughter. More balls. The kid drops one, hard-won bag and scrabbles, crab-like, out of the line of fire with only half a bag. He escapes directly into the arms of Junior's 28 year-old son, Major, who quickly removes the protective bicycle helmet and life vest. No double dipping here!
The Golfers on the Astroturf mats quiet and return to the boring work of hitting balls out into an empty field. The fun's over. The kid limps into line to wait his turn to hit. Junior stares out the window and doesn't say anything for about 10 minutes. I finally ask what's on his mind.
"I'm wonderin' when you're gonna leave."
Editor's Note: Since this story was written, "Errand's Pick Your Own Golf Range" has gone public and is now available to franchisees. If you are interested, purchase an old Airstream trailer first, then contact:
Junior Errands, Jr.
297118 East State Highway TT
Lickendine Gap, 284-9541.
Attn: Someone Who Cares
Larry Caringer has been writing humor for broadcast for a long time. Now, he's writing it for you. The stories, here, are from a collection of short stories from his book "Golf Beat: A Year in the Life of Persimmon Pines."