A course superintendent and his loyal lab lived good lives, and then, too young, they were gone

A course superintendent and his loyal lab lived good lives, and then, too young, they were gone

The first greenkeepers—Scottish shepherds developing our odd cross-country game—had their beloved dogs alongside them. They were loyal Scotch Collies and Border Collies, herding four-legged lawnmowers over hill and dale.

It’s a good life, to be a course dog.

Twenty-five or so years ago, Dan Meersman, now the director of grounds at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, was a kid in rural Michigan, working at the course where his father was the superintendent. One day, the son observed something he had never seen before, his father crying.

“George died,” the father said.

The son’s thoughts went to a new worker on the crew.

“George died?”

“He got hit by a car out on 216,” the father said.

“What the heck was George doing out on 216?” the son asked.

“George our dog, you idiot,” the father said.

A course super without a dog looks lonely. At Piping Rock, on Long Island, if you saw Rich Spear, the respected, veteran course superintendent there, you saw his 60-pound, knee-high lab, Cody. They were partners. If Spear gave you a lift in his Honda Accord, you came out with Cody’s yellow hair on the seat of your pants. If you went for dinner with Spear at The Coach in Oyster Bay, you’d hear him order two hamburgers, one for himself, the other for Cody.

Spear retired at the end of 2013, but he couldn’t quit the life. He bought himself a spiffy two-door BMW, and he and Cody made the rounds, visiting superintendent friends. They would see Craig Currier at Glen Oaks, John Carlone at Meadow Brook, others. Spear, a former college golfer at Franklin & Marshall, did a little consulting. That is, he’d mix sand for Carlone for a bunker restoration project at Meadow Brook. He’d talk to Currier about the Tour event coming to Glen Oaks. Cody didn’t have any use for Currier’s black lab, Rees. (Named for Rees Jones, the course designer.) Nor for Carlone’s black mouth Cur, Gracie. Cody hung with Spear.

In 2016, Cody and Spear, a divorced father with two grown children, moved into a ritzy gym-and-pool apartment complex not far from Piping Rock. A few days after Christmas, the children became worried when they hadn’t heard from their father for a day. The younger of the two, Alex, took a train from his home in Brooklyn to Long Island, opened the apartment door with a spare key and saw a nightmare. His 70-year-old father, athletic and healthy, had fallen down a flight of steps, broken his neck and died. Cody, still as the moon, was beside the body, guarding it. At the wake, Cody was a study in sad grace.

John Carlone, the Meadow Brook super, offered to adopt Cody, and Alex and his sister and their mother signed off on that. When Carlone’s mother came from Rhode Island to Long Island for a longish visit, Currier told Carlone he’d be happy to look after Cody, because a pair of lumbering dogs sharing space with a 90-year-old grandmother might make for a too-crowded dance floor.

By day, at Glen Oaks, one of Currier’s assistants, Brodie Sherburne, fell for Cody, and vice-versa. Cody moved into a house on the course, where Brodie lived with several other young club employees.

Cody turned eight in May, in mourning but getting on with his life. He had a golf course for a backyard and geese to chase. In August, the Northern Trust Open came to Glen Oaks and Cody had free rein, with an all-access photo ID credential around his neck. Dustin Johnson won in a playoff over Jordan Spieth, but it was Cody who was living largest that week, feasting on Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the volunteer tent.

In late October, Brodie took his first weekend off in months. He visited friends in upstate New York. On the Saturday night of that weekend, Cody slept in Brodie’s vacant room, the door open. Brodie’s close friend and fellow assistant, Kyle Shaw, was looking after the dog. At about 4:30 on Sunday morning, Kyle heard what sounded like a windstorm hitting the side of their modest, two-story wood-frame house. But it wasn’t wind. It was the dull, sickening whoosh of a racing fire.

About 150 volunteer firefighters, from eight fire departments, responded. The firefighters had to lay nearly a mile of hose to reach the fire, whose origin was later deemed to be accidental. Kyle and his three young colleagues got out, unhurt. Cody did not.

Brodie raced back to Glen Oaks. The house was now an ash heap. He sifted through the detritus, finding nothing for days, until late one afternoon he uncovered Cody’s skeletal remains. The young assistant buried the dog on the course and is now looking for just the right rock, something oval and flat, to mark the site.

Two tragic ends. Still, what noble lives. A man who lived doing what he loved, and a course dog who lived at large in his world.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]


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