It’s a Dog’s Life: At Some SoCal Courses, the Term “Dogleg” Takes on a Whole New Meaning
The tail-wagging anticipation begins when Justin Pirrone turns his truck into the steep downhill driveway that leads to the Emerald Isle GC in Oceanside. His dog, TC, is a 12-year-old black Doberman mix, and other than a local pizza joint frequented by Pirrone and his wife, there’s nowhere else that gets TC this excited.
“He’ll start whining like a little kid,” Pirrone says.
Justin, a Highway Patrol officer who rescued an injured TC from almost certain death on a Los Angeles freeway in 2011, doesn’t even try to restrain the dog anymore. TC bounds out of the truck door, his long legs carrying him in a full sprint to the pro shop, where he knows that much TLC and tasty treats await him.
Holly Kennedy, Emerald Isle’s proprietor, says with a laugh, “We broke his training. Anytime Justin came in, TC would wait by the door. Now he pulls into the parking lot and can’t wait to see us. He’s so excited, and he does all these crazy tricks.”
A JOY FOR ALL
You’ve probably already gotten the picture. Emerald Isle, a neatly kept par-56 executive course tucked into the hills of east Oceanside, is dog friendly. Or maybe better put, dog crazy. And not just in the clubhouse, but on the entire property. On any given day, every few groups going out will have at least one “doggo caddie” — as they’re dubbed at the Isle — either riding shotgun in a cart or trailing on a leash. Kennedy estimates that they see at least 40 to 50 different dogs a week.
That number doesn’t include the three “employees” who laze around the shop and greet people excitedly when they arrive. Karl and Frank are golden retrievers owned by Kassidy Glick, a former LPGA Tour player who helps manage the course and runs its popular social media sites. The newcomer to the pack is a English Cream Retriever puppy, Bogey, who can often be found sleeping under an umbrella at the driving range near his human mom, Natalie Vivaldi, the director of instruction.
The dogs clearly add to the vibe of what already is an intentionally laid-back atmosphere at Emerald Isle, which also has a “beach” area with picnic tables and offers a “Rookies & Rosé’” program.
“It’s another extension of how we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” says Kennedy, who, with her husband John, took over the lease of Emerald Isle in 2014. “We don’t have to fit into a box in golf. We don’t have to follow country club rules. This is something that’s joyful for our customers, and therefore joyful to us. How can anyone debate that?”
Glick, a design major in college, says she never dreamed that she’d find a creative niche posting the dog pictures on Instagram that have attracted so many new customers to the course. She’s not joking when she says, “I definitely know the dogs’ names more than owners’ names. I even get the shy ones to respond to me. I’ve got ‘crazy dog lady’ energy.”
AVOIDING FIGHTS AND BITES
It would probably be a stretch to say that dog-friendly courses are becoming a trend. There are, after all, plenty of issues to consider, and it’s just not realistic for some busy facilities. But there are also signs that pups are being welcomed at some courses more than ever before.
There are numerous places around Southern California that hold “Yappy Hours” for members and their pets. When Erinn Bollinger took over as the member experience director at Indian Wells CC, she said the occasions when people were allowed to bring their dogs were rather lame. She’s brightened it up — the club chef makes homemade dog treats — and she provides plenty of toys. Some dogs scamper on the grass off leash, and the monthly get-togethers attract 20 to 25 dogs during the cool evenings of the winter season.
Only three miles to the west of Emerald Isle is another executive course, Goat Hill Park, where the owner, golf clothing magnate John Ashworth, has welcomed dogs since first taking over the track in 2014. He started doing so because of his experiences in Scotland. “We consider ourselves a park,” Ashworth said, “and you would bring your dog to a park. By and large, dog owners are respectful people.”
Dozens of golfers play with their dogs each week, and among the Goat Hill regulars is former PGA Tour player Dean Wilson, who loved that he could get in rounds with his dog, Toby. He has since become a business partner in the course with Ashworth.
Kennedy and Ashworth say they haven’t had any dog fights or bites. Ashworth’s only mild frustration is the occasional poop “bomb” left on the course. At both places, leashes are suggested, but hardly required. Pironne, for instance, never has TC on a leash, and the dog is perfectly happy to stay nearby or occasionally wade into Emerald Isle’s most prominent pond.
“After a long day of work, it’s nice to get him out there,” Pirrone says. “I don’t know that I’d enjoy playing by myself if he wasn’t with me. That’s a big one.”
A TAIL WAG AND A SMILE
There’s another golfer-dog relationship out there, and it’s among those who use service dogs. On an August afternoon at the nine-hole Roosevelt GC in Griffith Park, Ignacio Bermuda finished a round with his five-year-old Australian Cattle Dog, Luna. It was just another routine outing for the two, who walk most of the L.A. city and county courses as many as four times a week. Bermuda, 51 and retired, suffers from a seizure disorder, and Luna will alert people around him if he’s suffering a medical emergency.
No issues have happened on the golf course, but Luna is an important safety tool, and Bermuda said he hasn’t had any problems with taking her onto courses. A couple of facilities have required paperwork, but most do not. She stays close to him at all times and calmly waits when he’s on the green to putt.
“I’ve golfed with her for four years, and it’s like taking my clubs out; she’s part of the whole thing,” Bermuda said. “I’m just impressed by how excited she is to be here. She knows she’s not going to run around and be free, but she likes it better than the dog park.”
Bermuda said he recently met another golfer with his dog at one of his frequent playgrounds, the par-3 Los Feliz GC. The man was inspired by seeing Luna out there on the bag, and though he had no medical issues, he just wanted to enjoy the time with his furry friend. “I thought that was really cool,” Bermuda said.
In reality, cool only begins to describe it. Golfing dog owners say that there’s a sense of happiness and freedom with their pet that they seldom experience elsewhere. “It’s a win-win,” Kennedy says. And for that she’ll get a tail wag and a smile in agreement.