The Hacker: Stone the crows. These thieving birds shouldbe up before the beak

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The Independent Online

I was four-down at the time so could be forgiven a loud guffaw when a crow swooped down to pick up my opponent's ball in its beak and fly gracefully off.

I shouted at John that it served him right for hitting the ball straight. He should have pulled his drive into the gorse bushes like I had done.

We then had a brief disagreement about the rules because I tried to claim the hole on the grounds that he had lost his ball.

There were two flaws in my argument. Firstly, my ball was even more lost than his was and, secondly, the rules clearly state that in the event of one of God's creatures taking the ball in clear view of both of us, John was entitled to replace it without penalty at the point where the theft occurred.

He dropped another ball and hit such a good shot just to the right of the green that I didn't even bother to look for mine. There was no way he wasn't going to win the hole.

But, as we walked towards the green, the crow struck again. It might not have been the same one but it was just as accomplished at ball-snatching.

I was just about to claim a half on the dubious grounds that you can't have two crow-drops on the same hole, when John set off furiously in pursuit of the bird.

"You'll never catch him," I yelled. John yelled back that he was looking for its nest. I'm not sure that crows build nests on links courses that don't have any trees, and after tramping through the rough he found nothing.

He then proceeded to take it out on me. My only excuse for my poor form is a lingering chest complaint but John played very well and trounced me 8&6.

My game bucked up on the way in and after winning the 16th I felt a bit better. Then, I pulled my drive into the rough on the 17th and, as we walked to where we thought it would be, a crow flew down and popped up with a ball in its beak. Since we were 30 yards away and hadn't yet located the ball in the thick rough, there was no way of being sure that it was my ball he'd taken so, technically, I couldn't have a free drop.

I wasn't bothered. Our match was over and it was blowing a gale and icy cold. I just dropped a ball on the fairway to have a hit.

It wasn't a bad shot, certainly better than most I'd hit that day, but as I watched it carve its way through the air a crow flew past me about four yards off the ground, followed the ball down the fairway and, once it had stopped rolling, picked it up and flew back over my head. I'd like to say it winked but I can't be sure.

There was another crow circling about 150 yards ahead and, sure enough, when John hit his second shot, the bird dived down to snaffle it in a flash.

Crows stealing golf balls are by no means a rarity but five balls in one round is a little off-putting. We mentioned it to a club official who said that they would have to get rid of them.

"Are you going to shoot them?" I asked. "No, we'll just ask them to go," he replied. I think that he was being sarcastic.

A search through the internet reveals many theories about this passion for balls. The obvious one is that they think they are eggs.

Another is that it is nest-building time for male crows, and females are attracted by nests which have a bit of colour in them; I can't imagine that the female crow would be very happy wasting a spring trying to hatch golf balls.

I also came across one very disgruntled golfer who said that the only birds that should be allowed on golf courses are the ones who drive the drinks buggies. None of us would want to be associated with such a view.

Tip of the week

No 85: Better putting, better scores

Many golfers think that striking up on a putt will encourage over-spin and promote better ball roll.

What happens is that the putter stays too low on the way back and rises too much into the ball, adding loft and encouraging the ball to launch and skid.

It is important in your putting set-up to keep extra weight on your left side (if you are a right-handed golfer) with your hands a little ahead of the ball.

This will promote your left shoulder to move down to start the stroke, encouraging your putter to rise on the backstroke in the correct arc.

This will now stop the putter raising too much on the ball, promoting true ball roll.

Try this next time you're on the greens and you'll soon be holing more putts.

Simon Iliffe is head professional at Bramley Golf Club, Surrey.