The Hacker: The death penalty seems harsh for stealing a ball but it scares the crows

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The Independent Online

Our battle with the crows who stole five balls from me and my companion John while we were playing at Royal Porthcawl, which I described last Sunday, has brought a wealth of similar happenings by email.

It also brought an allegation that I make up these outlandish experiences. Believe me, all the calamities that befall me on golf courses are verifiably true – and sadly so. Indeed, I wish I possessed an imagination able to invent them.

It appears crows are not the only variety of God's creatures capable of disrupting a game. Michael Braithwaite writes to describe what happened to his friend Frank at their club Fulneck, near Leeds.

"Frank and his playing partners were walking up the second fairway when they saw a fox trot on to the green and pick up two balls in his mouth. It then tried and failed to add Frank's ball to its hoard. Instead it peed on it before disappearing into the undergrowth."

The crows have not yet employed similar methods they have at their disposal to add to our discomfort but they cause enough trouble by swooping down to collect a ball in their beak and flying off.

It is not so bad if you and your opponents clearly see this happening. The rules say that you can then drop a ball at the spot without penalty. It is when the theft happens out of sight that it can ruin your score. John Timperley writes: "I was playing in our regular four-ball at Royal Lytham, on the par-five dog-leg sixth hole. One of my companions, Peter, hit his second shot down the fairway but because of the dog-leg he was unable to see it finish. He was adamant that he had hit it straight but we were unable to find it, even in the rough on either side, and we had to continue the hole without him.

"As we approached the green, having played our third shots, we saw a crow with a ball in its beak. As it flew off, it dropped the ball, which rolled into a greenside bunker. Peter identified it as his ball and, of course, felt he could replace the ball where he thought it had been before the crow removed it.

"His partner agreed but their opponents felt this was not possible as no one knew precisely where that should be. Their view, that he should play it from the bunker, a particularly deep and difficult one, with a two-shot penalty, was roundly rejected," says John.

On their return to the clubhouse they consulted the rules and discovered that since they had established that a crow had taken it, the ball could have been dropped without penalty "in an area which is neither the most, nor the least favourable of the various areas where it was equally possible that the ball originally lay".

Hardly succinct but we get the idea, and thanks to John Timperley for the tip. But you can imagine the arguments crows could cause in an important game. Luckily, when we had another two balls pinched, we saw them go, but it is starting to get on our nerves. What's the answer?

I heard from a club professional last week that when he was giving lessons on the range, crows used to queue up to steal the balls as they landed. He lost 2,000 one summer and took advice from a farmer to shoot a crow and hang up the body. The crows vanished immediately.

If we'd had a Kalashnikov handy there wouldn't have been a crow alive on the course but, then again, death seems a harsh penalty for stealing golf balls. Other methods have been suggested. Apparently, if you cover the ball with Tabasco, chilli sauce or some other noxious substance, they won't come back.

Someone even suggested placing scarecrows around the place. If you saw what most of us wear playing golf during the winter, the last thing the course requires is scarecrows.

Tip of the week

No 86: Putting from off the green

As a traditionalist, this isn't something I'd normally advocate, but occasionally there are times when the safe shot is a putt from off the green. My rule is only putt from fringe to green. If there are two different cuts of grass before you reach the putting surface, then do not putt it.

Remember the fringe will be cut at least twice as long as the grass on the green, so you need extra loft to get a ball rolling better. Position the ball further forward than normal in your stance and allow the hands to be behind the ball. Position your weight evenly and in the balls of your feet. When making your stroke, be sure to allow the putter to be released through impact and pass the hands, so you are striking the ball on the up, adding loft.

Do this and you'll have the ball rolling better and more success from off the green.

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