Golf pro spots unusual guest at public course in Naples

Karl Schneider
 
| Naples Daily News

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Large alligator spotted at golf club in Naples, Florida

Valencia Golf & Country Club professional Jeff Jones sent this video of an alligator on No. 17 at the course on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. The video was filmed by Tyler Stolting.

Tyler Stolting was going about his day prepping the Valencia Golf and Country Club for an upcoming tournament last week when an unusual guest decided to meander over the tee box on the 17th hole.

Normally, visitors to the public course in Naples don’t have long tails and 80 sharp teeth. They’re normally not giant alligators either.

“I was just out on the course marking the out-of-bounds lines et cetera and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Stolting said as he recalled coming across the gator just before 1 p.m. on Nov. 11.

By the way: Two huge alligators spotted taking strolls recently in Florida

Even as Tropical Storm Eta was lashing parts of Florida, Stolting said he had been keeping up with the weather and figured the course wouldn’t be hit hard. 

But the first assistant golf professional at the club was quick to take a video of the gator that, by his estimate, was between 10 and 13 feet long. He said he wasn’t really worried and thought it was pretty cool.

He sent the video off to his girlfriend and another pro at the club, not knowing it would soon go viral.

“I didn’t think much of it,” he said, “ … it kind of took on a life of its own.”

The Valencia club posted Stolting’s video to its Facebook page where it has been shared more than 2,500 times.

As is wont with commenters on social media, people were skeptical about the gator’s length, but Stolting is insistent that in-person, it looked very big.

“I watched it like eight times to make sure it was real,” a commenter going by Dustin Mormando wrote. “I thought it was a scene from the movie, Crawl. That thing is huge! I can’t even imagine what I would do if I saw one like that!” 

Another commenter seemed exasperated by the non-believers.

“Non-Floridians losing their minds thinking this is Photoshop,” wrote commenter Christopher Jett. “No. It’s just Florida.” 

His 10- to 13-foot estimate is not out of bounds, either. The state record in Florida for the largest gator ever harvested is even bigger. It measured more than 14 feet, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website. The male gator weighed 654 pounds and was taken Nov. 1, 2012 in Lake Washington. 

In other news: Everglades Wonder Gardens charts course, debuts education programs

After he took the video, Stolting said he watched for another 20 seconds or so as it headed toward the water.

There are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in Florida, and FWC data shows no more than 16 unprovoked bites in a single year since it began recording these statistics in 1948. 

While Stolting said it isn’t typical to see gators on Valencia’s course, he said people around here are pretty used to them.

“I have said in the past: If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you,” he said. “As long as you don’t feed or bother it, you should be OK. He doesn’t bother any one.”

After his now-viral encounter with the gator, Stolting is glad Valencia is receiving some attention. He’s been in the area for about 8 years and says he’s proud to work at what he called the best public course around. It first opened in 1997 and was renovated in 2018, according to its website.

If Floridians do come across an alligator that poses a threat, the FWC has a hotline.

The FWC considers alligators to be a nuisance if they are more than 4 feet long and are believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property. FWC’s website says alligators under 4 feet are not large enough to be dangerous.

If a nuisance alligator is found in your neighborhood, call the hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286).

Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Send tips and comments to kschneider@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @karlstartswithk

April 2020: Large gator stuck on the wrong side of Alligator Alley fence

In 2016: Rambo the pet alligator can stay, Florida officials say

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