High clouds peel away from the faded remnants of a half moon. The sea is at full tide. A blast of salt water slams into the historic breakwater wall, scattering crying gulls with spray. A rosy dawn opens the day on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach.
Emerging slowly from the shadows of Cypress and fog are the silhouetted figures of Pebble Beach greens keepers. The methodical scratch, scratch of rakes across wet sand, maintenance carts rattling with restless tools and the distant engines of mowers and blowers fill the morning air. Somehow, the stillness of nature overpowers the sounds of man. Only a fortunate few have the rare opportunity to witness this magic.
Off in the distance, to the south, are the crescent white sands of Carmel Beach. The rocky outcropping of Point Lobos anchors the horizon. Somewhere between these two famous landmarks a small dot appears. It moves low and fast over the dew-drenched ground. As it approaches, it grows in size and speed. It darts around the first trap flanking the 18th hole and makes a beeline across the 548-yard fairway towards the legendary green. The bulletshaped blur shoots along the emerald green edge of the most famous fairway in history. In one instant, grace in motion and passionate purpose come together in fairytale beauty. Welcome to Lucky’s world.
Five years ago, when Pebble Beach managers realized they had an escalating problem with nesting geese on their golf course they determined the most humane way to control the problem was to use a herding dog, like a Border Collie. After conducting a nationwide search and paying a hiring bonus of $4,000, Lucky was employed to keep resident Canadian Geese and their “left-overs” off the course.The company prides itself in being dogfriendly. In past years, tournament contestants often brought their dogs and staged dog shows on the Club 19 lawn.
Technically, the Pebble Beach Company owns Lucky, but in reality, she is a one-man dog. Jack Holt, a twenty-seven-year employee at Pebble Beach Golf Course, is Lucky’s
handler and best friend. He takes her home every night, where she sleeps in a crate in his son’s bedroom closet. He didn’t want to leave her alone in a kennel.“Dogs need to be around people.” He adds,“It’s her favorite spot.”
Lucky is a hound on a mission. At only 39 pounds, she has her work cut out for her. With laser focus, she must run down her most intimidating adversaries. In fact, her endurance—she runs twelve miles a day—and her determination are characteristics of her breed. Her courage, however, is one of Lucky’s most unique qualities.
“She’s more afraid of the birds than they are of her,” Holt says. Weighing up to 24 pounds and standing at a height of nearly three feet, a flock of giant Canadian Geese is no laughing matter.“ The geese are almost as smart as her and a flock of thirty or more sometimes intimidate her.”
“Get ‘em” is the command to chase or “out run” the geese. Extensively trained for obedience, she runs out a distance of twenty-five yards or more and then lies down a few feet away from the birds. Unless, of course, they outnumber her thirty to one. Then she fades off to the right or left rather than down. Jack says,“She never touches a bird. She’s a real soft dog, she’s not a bully.”
Because Lucky was two years old and expertly trained before arriving in Pebble Beach, she already possessed strong obedience skills. Working Border Collies are trained to respond to a combination of hand, voice and eye gestures. The breed is known for its high intelligence and it is not uncommon for Border Collies to comprehend a 200-word vocabulary. Their obsessive herding characteristics, exceptional athletic abilities and need to perform, generally makes them an unsuitable match for the average pet owner.
These dogs are judged by their herding performance and ability. A good Border Collie possesses natural herding instincts that have been part of their breeding for centuries. In an effort to protect those qualities, the United States Border Collie Club opposes registering Border Collies with organizations that breed for conformation. The result is that there is no breed standard of appearance. A Border Collie can range in size from 25 to 55 pounds, have a smooth, medium or rough coat and have color variations of black and white or black and tan with white markings. A Border Collie like Lucky is a serious working dog with a complex personality who is fulfilled when she herds.
During tournament play, Lucky has to stay in the cart with Holt. The PGA tour officials regulate when she can chase geese in between the groups. And because she’s still a little afraid of a swinging golf club, she’s fine with the rule. Generally, Lucky is much too dedicated to her assigned task to be distracted by golfers. Her clear, brown eyes were locked on Holt the entire length of our interview. There is one exception. The sound of Arnold Palmer’s voice attracts her instantly. He is so charmed by her affection, he threatens to take Lucky back to Florida every time he visits.
Jack wouldn’t reveal the full content of Lucky’s compensation package. One of her perks includes a monthly grooming—she doesn’t like it much—and free hot dogs from the guys at the shop, where she’s the unofficial mascot. As she ages, Holt hopes to introduce a younger version of Lucky, maybe a rescued pup, that they will both train as her eventual replacement.
While Lucky clearly l-o-o-o-ves her work, she privately admits looking forward to retirement and some travel. Her plans are to spend sunny days on the banks of Hat Creek or the mighty Madison watching Holt and his son fly fish for trout. No more worries about aggressive, fat geese. Yes, life is a dream, if you are Lucky.