A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

November 2012   

Golfing & Flying:  The Full Circle 

Back in 2008, I wrote an article about how golf & flying don’t mix.  There had been an incident on a golf course runway where a couple, a man and his wife in a golf cart, scooted out onto that strip just as I was landing on it.  It was only by some miracle that the driver of the cart saw my airplane, in quite literally “the nick of time”.  She managed to stop just as the wingtip swept past her windshield with mere inches to spare.  We were  on a collision course, and the prop was spinning at about 1500 rpm.  There was no way the airplane and the golf cart would avoid contact had the cart not stopped.  

 Big signs on the cart paths warned golfers to stop and check both directions for incoming and departing aircraft, prior to entering the runway.  However, since there was never much air traffic, golfers had become complacent and it was rare that they even glanced around while crossing the strip. 

 It taught me a lesson about operating an airplane in an area where non-pilots are assembled.  I think I’ve become much more vigilant, watching and expecting bad things to happen when mixing it up like this.  You can never be too careful. 

Then in August of this year, I had another golf course incident, but this time with far less serious consequences.  This time it was my fault, and ended with nothing but a laugh and a bit of an embarrassment.  Two acquaintances and I embarked on a Sunday morning recreational flight which took us to two different golf courses.  That route in itself seemed odd, because out of three pilots, we had no golfers in the group.  The stops just happened to be at airports with golf courses adjacent to them.  And they always welcomed pilots at their restaurants. 

 It was decided to have lunch at Nanaimo, B.C. where the course is on the east side of the airport.  I never knew this, but a remote taxiway leads to a small ramp for aircraft parking on that side of the field.  And a small gate with a push-button lock allows access through the security fence.  So, it’s all set up specifically for pilots who wish to play the course or simply go over for lunch.  It’s a very nice and convenient touch.   

There is a short walk involved once inside the golf course property, and it takes you across what I discovered is the fourth fairway, then down a path, through some trees and the equipment yard, ending up at the clubhouse.   

After lunch, I ran into an old friend there, and advised my flying partners that I’d be a few minutes before catching up with them.  Then, attempting to find my way back to that gate in the trees, I found myself wandering around in very unfamiliar territory.  I was quite literally, lost.  A person without golf clubs, strolling around a golf course attracts a certain amount of attention.  Several golfers seemed curious.  When I requested directions back to the airport, no one knew about the gate.  “You can’t get there from here” was the unanimous response.  

As I continued looking for my way back to the clubhouse, a Dash 8 flew by descending to land.  But it was on the wrong side of the golf course!  Stopping to think about it, I reasoned that the pilot could probably see the runway better than I could.  It became clear that I should be going in the opposite direction.  But even after spotting a windsock, I could not find a way to get there. 

By this time, about 10 to 15 minutes had gone by.  I wondered how long it would be before I saw my ride departing and leaving me stranded on the golf course, without clubs. 

 Finally I spotted a fellow in a cart that had a sign on it stating he was a “player assistant”.   Quite relieved, I managed to flag him down and ask for some directions to this mysterious gate into the airport.  It was only then that I learned the search should have been over on the fourth fairway.  And here I was on the first tee.  He laughed and wondered if I really was a pilot, and why I was unable to navigate my way off a golf course.  Who did I fly for?  He wouldn’t be booking with my airline if all the pilots were like me. 

 My two companions were still waiting on that isolated little ramp when I arrived.  I was truly in style, in a golf cart, with a driver.  I doubt if they believed me when I explained the tour was for VIP’s, and I couldn’t pass it up.   

All’s well that ends well.  We had enjoyed a great lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant.  It was inexpensive, the service was excellent, and the golfers were friendly.  I never did learn who decided to build that taxiway and the gate, but it’s a win-win for everyone involved; the airport, the golf course and the pilots.  Who would have thought that such a diverse bunch of folks would put together an idea for sharing our passions.  They are to be commended.  I have flown into other airports that promote their association with golf courses, but they are quite few and far between. 

Now back to my point about the full circle.  Years ago, when it was golfers who got lost on a runway, I almost ran them down with an airplane.  This time it was me who got lost on a golf course, and fortunately wasn’t attacked, or even threatened with a golf club.    

 

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