Here we go again! Golfer’s shot lands on alligator’s head on Hilton Head course

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Katherine Kokal
·4 min read
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There are many places you don’t want your golf ball to end up when you’re on the course.

Usually, those places are sand traps or lagoons on either side of the fairway.

It probably goes without saying that you don’t want it to end up on an alligator’s head.

On March 5, Ron Ritchie’s chip did just that.

The 65-year-old Bluffton resident was playing Shipyard Golf Course on Hilton Head Island when a normal chip up to the green rolled too far and went up an alligator’s arm. It ended up on the animal’s head while it was sunbathing near the lagoon on the other side of the green, Ritchie said.

“We were rolling on the ground laughing,” Ritchie said of himself and his golfing buddies, Lorenzo Simmons and J.D. Deeby.

A golf ball on Shipyard Golf Course on Hilton Head came to rest on an alligator’s head March 5. This photo has been cropped and was taken from a safe distance.
A golf ball on Shipyard Golf Course on Hilton Head came to rest on an alligator’s head March 5. This photo has been cropped and was taken from a safe distance.

Ritchie’s encounter happened around a month before another golfer in Okatie’s ball landed on an alligator’s back. The Island Packet’s coverage of that incident inspired Ritchie to share his unlikely encounter.

He said the alligator was surprisingly calm once the ball settled on his head: Ritchie said the 12-foot alligator didn’t rush into the water or snap at the ball.

Maybe he didn’t even notice, he said.

Ritchie took a photo from a safe distance and decided to take his shot from farther away.

“I lost 25 feet on my shot because I wanted to get away from the 12-foot alligator,” he said.

Talk about playing from the rough.

Hilton Head alligator safety

Spring is mating season for the American Alligator, which means you’re more likely to see males moving among lagoons to meet their mates between late March and early June.

Alligators, native to Hilton Head and the Lowcountry, can grow to 12 feet long. They are often found sunning themselves on the sides of ponds or lagoons. The animals are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature.

If you come across one, keep your distance. Approaching or feeding an alligator is one of the worst things you can do — for you and the animal — according to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

When alligators associate humans with food, they’re more likely to come toward them and be perceived as threatening. When they’re removed from backyards, properties or lagoons, they’re often euthanized.

Here are some tips for alligator mating season:

  • Scan the edges of lagoons for gator activity: Steer clear, no matter the size of the alligator.

  • Never, ever feed an alligator: Alligators are more likely to approach people if they’ve been fed before, according to SCDNR.

  • Remember that while alligators are mostly freshwater animals, they can survive in salt or brackish water for several hours or even days, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration.

If you’re approached by an alligator, wildlife expert Corbin Maxey told Business Insider you should back away without turning your back on the alligator.

If you’re being bitten by an alligator, Maxey said not to attempt to pry open the animal’s jaws. Instead, attack the animal’s sensitive snout and hit its eyes.

Most importantly, Maxey said not to play dead. Ideally, you’d stay out of the animal’s territory in the first place, he said.

An estimated 10-foot-long alligator makes its way to the driving range at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island.
An estimated 10-foot-long alligator makes its way to the driving range at Long Cove Club on Hilton Head Island.

What to do when you see an alligator...

  1. At the beach: If an alligator is swimming in the water or on the beach, tell a lifeguard and stay out of the water. Alligators can survive in salt water for only a couple of days.

  2. On the golf course: Clear the area and maintain safe distance. Allow the alligator to get to its destination while you warn other golfers. Report the alligator sighting to the clubhouse.

  3. On a bike path or in a public park: Keep your distance and encourage other riders or park users to do the same. Allow the animal to pass.

  4. In your backyard: Stay inside and keep track of children and pets. Report the alligator to your property owners’ association or, if necessary, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

A large alligator toppled patio furniture outside a home in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island on Monday, April 20, 2020.
A large alligator toppled patio furniture outside a home in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island on Monday, April 20, 2020.

If an alligator does not appear aggressive, you can keep your distance and leave the animal alone in nearly all circumstances.

When an alligator begins to threaten people or pets, it may be time to discuss the gator’s removal with the SCDNR.

SCDNR’s helpline, (800) 922-5431, will connect you with a biologist and help you determine the next steps, according to agency spokesperson David Lucas.

Not all alligators have to be removed and euthanized. Community security guards sometimes relocate small alligators to other lagoons in the same neighborhood.