Sooner or Later, Every Lost Ball Will Be Found
There are two “Lost Ball” rules in the Rules of Golf, one in the book and one not.
In the book, the penalty is “stroke and distance.” The one not in the book calls for “no penalty” because some day, someone will find the ball and so it is no longer lost and the player should not be penalized for a “found ball.”
You had to be there to really enjoy what happened. At least there were several people who will vouch for what took place, all members of “The Team” with the exception of one, Tommy Tharp, a well-known businessman from Elephant Butte and a friend of all present.
There was Jack Whitt, the on-site owner of Turtleback Mountain Partners, builders and promoters of Sierra Del Rio Golf course; Dick Phelps, golf course architect; Sam Senn, owner of the Bascor Engineering firm of Socorro; Ruben Chavarria, the head of Golf Works of Austin, Texas, and Jeff Smith, general manager of Sierra Del Rio; Head Professional Victor Torres, members of the construction crew, Tommy and myself.
Barbara Morrow, the company’s secretary, could have been with us but was back in the office keeping things in order. It was Barbara who suggested I write this article.
There previously had been a golf course on the property, the Oasis Golf Resort, a nine-hole course built in 1972. The property was cleared for eight straight-away holes and one that was a huge dog-leg left. A second nine was built in 1998 but the entire course closed in 2003. It was two years later that Jack Whitt and his partners decided to buy the property and completely rebuild the course as the centerpriece of a beautiful housing project.
Finding an Underground Stream
The date was March 6, 2006, and we all met at approximately where the dog leg was on that original nine-hole course. Depending on which nine you started on, it was either No. 3 or 12. Par was five.
The hole had a fairway that was about 50 yards wide tee to green, with marsh on either side. If your shot went off the fairway it was almost certain you would not be able to find it.
However, in playing the hole if you cut across the marsh on the left with your drive and were successful it was a sure birdie and often an eagle.
Needless to say, the big hitters took a rip at it each time, myself included, although I didn’t try to cut off as much as some of the players. Indeed, I was successful quite a few times.
Sam had asked the group to meet him in this area on that day and indicated there might be a project that would cap off a wonderful and beautiful course. The building of the final two holes, which are now number 10 and 11, had been held up until some wetland issues could be addressed.
Sam mentioned that he had seen a topographical map that showed there had been a lake in this area that had been covered over many years ago. He was almost certain there was an underground stream in the area. He had asked Jim Jacobs, another member of the team, to bring his backhoe to the area. He wanted him to dig a hole in a particular place.
As we gathered to watch, Jim fired up the backhoe and began to dig. On the sixth scoop he brought the dirt up and deposited to our right. Shortly before that, Jeff Cox had walked up to the back of the machine to get Jim’s attention. On that last scoop Sam noticed the dirt was moist. He told Jim, no more digging. That was enough.
As the dirt was placed on the ground from that last scoop, I noticed a golf ball rolling toward Jeff’s feet. Over the noise of the backhoe’s diesel, I let out a loud whistle to Jeff, pointed to the ball, cupped my hands and motioned to Jeff to throw me the ball. I could not believe my eyes when I saw my name on that ball.
A Long-lost Ball
The group soon left, returning the next day to find the hole full of water. San was right. We had tapped into, not only the water table, but the underground stream as well.
The result is the lake you see now to the left of the 10th hole and between the tee and green on the 11th. The water still continues on its way to Mims Lake which has been the case for hundreds of years. We just brought it to the surface for a short time to compliment two beautiful golf holes.
As for the golf ball, I’ve been on the Wilson Advisory staff since 1965, and I played Wilson equipment. Each year they’ve sent clubs, several dozen golf balls, caps, shirts, and other products for me to play and promote.
Many years ago, they began putting my initials on the balls but for one year only, they spelled out my whole name. I trace that year back to 1998. When I saw that, I asked them to go back to just initials because I didn’t want people finding a golf ball with my name on it in unusual places.
As work continued on the building of the lake you can’t imagine how many golf balls were found. There were thousands. We saved many but, for sure, many, many more were left behind to be buried once again. Today, I’m sure, we could go around the lake area and still find balls that could date back over 30 years.
There’s an old saying in golf: “There’s no such thing as a lost ball because some day someone is going to find it.” So why should anyone be penalized for a lost ball?
By the way, the water hazard on 10 and 11 holes now is named Lake Wimberly.
Guy Wimberly wrote a regular column for Sun Country Golf magazine for four years. This article originally appeared in May 2007.