Osny Last year, a Champions Tour event made history by becoming the first PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament to be held partly on a par-3 course. his April, the same tournament returned to the same course, called Top of the Rock, and if the timing had been slightly different it might have made history again. Just a month after the tournament (the Bass Pro Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, won by Billy Andrade and Joe Durant), four sinkholes opened up near the driving range. Nobody was hurt, but the sinkholes were big enough to have held the full field, with plenty of room left for just about the entire Golf Writers Association of America. Sheets of fake white bunker sand and closely-mown artificial turf drooped over the edges of the main opening, like fondant icing on a wedding cake. The drop to the deepest part was forty feet.
Wachtberg Where do golf-course sinkholes come from? “There are a lot of factors,” Orndorff told me. “When you’re on a slope, you have more groundwater draining, and draining more rapidly—almost like flushing a toilet. The pond you see in those pictures of Top of the Rock is man-made, so now you’re changing the hydrodynamics of the area, and collecting water that used to percolate into the ground; you’re also adding weight to the surface. Something we see in suburban development is collapses near the outlets of retention ponds, where erosion is the greatest.”
I grew up in Kansas City, about two hundred and twenty miles north of Top of the Rock, and when I was a kid my family visited the Ozarks fairly often. During one trip, I got into trouble for standing behind my father and pulling his hat down over his eyes while he was driving. (This was the era when dads wore fedoras and nobody wore seat belts.) My sister and I would beg him to stop whenever we passed a billboard advertising a cave, as we seemed to do every couple of miles. He always refused, saying the caves were just holes in the ground and could give way at any time. Now, half a century later, I guess I can see his point—although I still think we should have stopped.
“Some people are asking why they didn’t close the golf course,” Orndorff said. “But that whole area is prone to sinkholes, and the next one could be miles away.” He also said that, as far as my father’s speluncaphobia was concerned, “You don’t hear of too many caves collapsing and killing tourists. In fact, I don’t know of any.”