Course's coots get good scare from live-in canine

Golfing with the old coots - no offense to any of my golf partners, especially you, Vic. More on this later.

It was one heck of a cold day. It was overcast and a little windy but not a big enough deterrent to playing a round with some of my fellow golf fanatics.

Where to play a quick, challenging round and seek shelter from the weather?

Our choice was perfect. Eagle Crest Golf Course is one of three courses in the Sun City Summerlin community. (Yes, you can play all three; they are all public courses.) Palm Valley and Highland Falls complete the trio.

Eagle Crest is a 4,067-yard, par-60 executive track with multiple challenges that beckon multiple management decisions to satisfy any golfer. From the blues, Eagle Crest carries a rating of 62.9 and a slope of 95. Plus, we could play it in less than three hours. There are 14 par-3s and four par-4s, so you get to play all the clubs in your bag.

I remember someone telling me that Eagle Crest is the highest elevation golf course in Las Vegas. I believe it - views abound. It's as if you are on top of the world. The view from the tee on No. 14 is incredible.

Our pleasurable day of golf ended nicely as we teed off on No. 18. Hole 18 is a 370-yard par-4 that's all downhill and drivable if you get ahold of it. Three of us landed on the fringe. All four of us parred it. Total time of play: 3 hours and 2 minutes. The 19th hole never seemed so warm.

So what's with the coots? And not you, Vic.

What's more interesting about the day is a sight I've never seen before on a golf course - a dog riding shotgun in a golf cart. What the heck?

The next day I met with Brian Bagwell, director of golf course maintenance for Sun City, and Josh Virostko, golf course superintendent for Eagle Crest to get the skinny.

Both chuckled. Josh introduced me to Leroy.

"Leroy is my dog," he said. "He's an Australian shepherd. I bring Leroy to work every day with me, and I've trained him to chase away the coots and the geese from the course."

Coots are water birds. It seems dogs are highly effective in controlling the bird population.

Brian told me that the fowls can really screw up a course. They tend to eat the grass seed and mature grass, too, he said.

"Droppings are a nuisance, of course," he said. "They tend to gum up the equipment and also the golfers' shoes. And during mating season, they can attack golfers."

Other than the dog, I wondered what other methods could be employed to stave off the coots. Brian said there are several, but none are really all that good.

"You can buy chemicals to make the grass and water taste bad; both are bad ideas," he said. "Floats with laser beams that scare away the birds are another way. Decoys work for a little while until the birds become familiar with them. Air cannons are noisy to the golfers and residents, and putting up fences around the lakes ruins the ambiance."

So how do you train Leroy to do his job? Josh said it's simple.

"I did my own training," he said. "Days on the golf course and, of course, dogs being a natural predator for these birds helps out a lot. The key, since most damage is done near water hazards, is to train the dog to enter the water to make the water habitat uncomfortable for the birds. "

Perhaps the best news is that these birds are migratory, appearing mainly between September and March. So that means Leroy works only part time.

Palm Valley also has a dog on coot patrol. His name is Riot, a Labrador mix who is owned by Eric Alms, the course superintendent. Highland Falls has two dogs in training, both Lab mixes, owned by one of the mechanics at the course.

My last question to both Brian and Josh: Are you guys bird lovers or golf lovers? I asked for their golf handicaps. They both answered in the mid-20s. Answer, easy. They are definitely dog lovers.

John Asay is a longtime golfer and local freelance writer. Contact him at jasay@reviewjournal.com.