Hawk killer banned from scene of crime!

Check out the statement Grand Cypress Golf Club posted to its Web site:

Golfer Tripp Isenhour has been charged with two misdemeanors after an incident in which a hawk was killed on our property while Isenhour was taping a TV show.

No one from the Grand Cypress Resort was present when the incident occurred, and we did not learn about it until after the fact. We cooperated fully with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission when it investigated.

In the past, Isenhour had used our facilities for practice, as many local touring professionals do at this and other golf facilities in the area. He has not and does not tour under a Grand Cypress sponsorship. Because of the hawk incident, we have terminated his access to practice at the resort. [emphasis mine]

Golf is a sport that is rooted in the enjoyment of nature and being outdoors. In fact, one of the special treats our guests currently are enjoying is seeing bald eagles that are nesting on our property. We are distressed and saddened by the hawk incident and want everyone who hears about it to understand the resort’s feelings and that the resort was not involved.

This is great! From the timing, the club obviously had this statement in the works even as I was working on my original post. I’m disabling the e-mail link there but reinstate it here for those who would like to express their gratitude to Grand Cypress for its prompt and uncompromising response to the issue.

Let’s hope for an equally positive response from Titleist, and that when Mr. Isenhour gets his day in court he gets smacked upside the head, metaphorically speaking, with the full force of the law.

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Bad Tripp

In yesterday’s post about the senseless killing of a Red-shouldered Hawk by pro golfer Tripp Isenhour (left), I provided a link to the PGA feedback form where you can express your feelings about this childish, reprehensible act. But does someone who exhibits such poor judgment and lack of ethics deserve the privilege of playing at such a prestigious course as Grand Cypress Golf Club? Not to mention all the bad publicity he’s brought on the club. If you’d like to comment on this to Grand Cypress management, maybe suggest that he be banned for life, you can use either this e-mail link or the Web form.

BTW, the deadly projectile was likely a Titleist Pro V1X. That’s Isenhour’s preferred ball according to his PGA profile. He’s also on the Titleist Web site, so I’m guessing that he receives some level of sponsorship from them (free balls at least) in exchange for the use of his name and likeness. Does he deserve free Titleist balls if he’s used them to break federal law and commit animal cruelty? If you’re thinking, “No, he doesn’t,” you can express this opinion to Titleist world headquarters toll free at (800) 225-8500, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Eastern Time Monday-Friday.

Golf as a blood sport?

If a golfer repeatedly thwacked balls in your direction, you’d have reason to believe that he was trying to kill you. After all, a golf ball can travel over 175 miles per hour, and people have been killed by errant balls. But we’re not talking hooks and slices here–this is intentional. Now imagine taking the force of one of those golf balls if you weighed less than two pounds. That’s exactly what happened to a Red-shouldered Hawk that had the fatal misfortune of tee-ing off professional golfer Tripp Isenhour.

The hawk, a resident of Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, had the audacity to start calling (persistently, as Red-shoulders are wont to do) while Isenhour was taping a segment for a TV show, Shoot Like A Pro. The bird was probably protesting the TV crew’s proximity to its nest, as it flew closer to the men even after Isenhour reportedly chased it down and thwacked a few balls toward its original perch. On the second round, he kept at it until one of the balls connected and the bird plummeted to the ground, broken and dying, before the eyes of the horrified crew. To compound their culpability, they then hid the evidence by burying the carcass. Apparently the only reason we’re hearing about it now is that sound engineer Jethro Senger was so troubled by sleepless nights and bad dreams that he finally reported the incident to authorities. You can read the rest of the sordid details here, here, and here.

This isn’t the first time a federally protected bird has died at the hands of a pro athlete on the job, though such blatantly deliberate acts are rare. Baseball has taken the biggest recorded toll, including an Osprey, a Mourning Dove, and an unidentified gull all hit by baseballs (the latter two died instantly). If this keeps up, ESPN might have to take its tongue out of its cheek when it revises its list of ten worst examples of animal cruelty in sports (how insulting is it that they included mascots?).

Like Wisconsin’s Green-breasted Mango, this case seems minor but has far-reaching implications. Isenhour is a professional sports figure, supposedly a role model, and adherence to the highest standards of conduct should be a small price to pay in exchange for the $2 million he’s won in tournaments over the last four years (not to mention the income from his TV and video deals).

Isenhour could be charged with violations of both federal law (the Migratory Bird Treaty Act) and lesser animal cruelty laws. Suggested consequences have run the gamut from the trollish (a reward for making such a stunning shot) to the wickedly appropriate (letting people tee off at him for a donation to the Audubon Society) to the alarmingly extreme (sorry, but the MBTA doesn’t allow for capital punishment). Keeping it within normal legal and ethical limitations, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that his punishment include a hefty fine, community service (preferably cleaning cages at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey), and a suspension of his PGA membership. A little jail time would be nice, but I won’t hold my breath for that.

The actual punishment meted out to Isenhour could depend in large part on the judge. One of the most daunting issues facing the people charged with enforcing wildlife laws is that judges too often don’t take such cases seriously or identify too strongly with the accused. If the case goes before a judge who’s a golfer, Isenhour could walk away with a slap on the wrist. If the judge is a birder–and there are many more birders than golfers, though not necessarily on the bench–we could see a meaningful sentence that will make other ego-addled athletes think twice (if they think at all) before aiming a ball, club, or bat at a protected bird.

We bird lovers might not be able to influence the court’s decision, but we might be able to persuade the PGA to hit Isenhour where it hurts most: in his career and bank account. Please leave your comments on this situation on the PGA feedback form.

And what about the TV crew that stood by and watched it happen? I hope that all but whistle-blower Senger get charged as accessories and sentenced to community service. I’m sure the Center for Birds of Prey has enough hawk poop to go around.