Thieving squirrels par for the course for Edmonton golfers

At one Edmonton golf course, players have to face an additional hazard when they play: golf-ball stealing squirrels.

Golfers often have to deal with the frustration of watching their golf balls swallowed up by sand traps or water hazards.

But at Riverside Golf Course in Edmonton, players have another type of obstacle to watch for – squirrels.

The furry critters regularly sprint from the bush, scoop golf balls from the green, and run off with them, particularly around the 10th and 18th holes.

"I shot my first shot right on top of the hill," golfer Dora Bilko told CBC News. "And before I got there this little squirrel came across, picked it up, and took it away. Everybody saw it."

Golfers here call it getting "squirreled." And most players take it in stride. The course even has a rule that allows golfers to replace their balls without penalty if everyone agrees on exactly what they saw.

"The funniest thing is when you see golfers running after the squirrel trying to get their gosh darn ball back," added golfer John Ericson. "That's hilarious – waving their club, or throwing their club at them trying to get them to drop the ball."

Driving players squirrelly

Golfers admit squirrels are problems at most golf courses, but nothing like what happens at Riverside.

"It's been going on for years here, but this year it's getting worse," apprentice golf pro Dillon Wilder told the Edmonton Journal. "Some people come in after a round and say they've lost four or five balls."

And then there's the question of why a squirrel would steal golf balls, which consist of a synthetic rubber interior and hard plastic exterior, which are not exactly known for their tastiness.

"There's nothing left of them. You'll just see the inside of the core and that's it. There's no outer core," said assistant golf pro Trevor Andrew, who has retrieved some of the balls. "They just chew them and chew them and chew them."

Passing the torch

Eyewitnesses who track the tiny thieves say the golf balls aren't being taken into the squirrel's nest or buried for a late winter snack. Instead, they're taken to the tops of trees and the remains left in magpie nests. Golfers speculate the squirrels are trying to drive the aggressive birds away.

One tree reportedly had 250 balls stuffed in and around its branches.

People have tried numerous ways of keeping their golf balls, including dousing them with Tabasco sauce, but nothing works.

Some have suggested killing the critters outright, or possibly hiring a coyote to patrol the course. But golf course officials plan to let nature and the squirrels take their course, said Wilder.

"Every generation [of squirrel] teaches the new ones to take the balls," added Bilko. "They're trained."