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Published July 08 2011

Close encounter? Large circular patch of burned grass found on Hawley, Minn., golf course

HAWLEY, Minn. – In the game of golf, sometimes you score a bogey. And, sometimes, one lands on your golf course.

At least that’s the story Don Johnson has concocted to explain the large circular burn mark on hole No. 2 at Ponderosa Golf Club about nine miles west of Hawley.

“We think it was a UFO,” Johnson said Thursday with a straight face. “We don’t know for sure.”

One thing the course manager does know: Fireworks didn’t cause the 16-foot-wide black mark, which is dotted with a few patches of yellowed grass.

“Look at those landing pad marks,” Johnson said, still straight-faced.

Just then, a golfer approached the No. 2 women’s tee box and gestured to the charred spot marked off with yellow rope and a little white sign that declares in red letters, “WE THINK IT WAS UFO.”

“I like the sign,” Jane Bolin of Glyndon said to Johnson.

He replied, “We didn’t want anybody to get too close and get contaminated, you know.”

Yes, the water hazard isn’t the only thing getting deeper around here.

Johnson explained that one of Ponderosa’s employees discovered the smoldering spot on Saturday morning. The worker ran a few hundred yards to the equipment shed to get help, and he and other workers emptied four fire extinguishers to put out the fire.

All that for a patch of grass? Hawley, we have a problem.

“There’s a good possibility that it might have been a worker’s cart or something,” Johnson finally admitted.

Indeed, the truth is out there: Johnson said a grounds crew member was driving a utility cart on hole No. 2 when he noticed the seat was getting hot. He hopped off and didn’t see any smoke or fire, but when he lifted the seat, flames shot out. By the time the extinguishers were emptied, the cart had burned to the ground.

Johnson, a former assistant fire chief in Moorhead, decided to have some fun with the blaze and hopefully draw some attention to the fact that the privately owned Ponderosa Golf Club – despite its proximity to Buffalo River State Park, which has fallen victim to Minnesota’s government shutdown – remains open to the public.

As for the utility cart?

“You would not even recognize it,” Johnson said.

Or identify it.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528