Fishers Island PGA Assistant goes snorkling to rescue client's clubs

Oliver Jones
Courtesy Oliver Jones
Oliver Jones, still in his swimsuit and snorkel, poses with a happy client after he rescued the man's golf clubs from the bottom of Connecticut Sound.
By Mark Aumann
PGA.com

Series: PGA

Published: Saturday, October 03, 2015 | 10:44 a.m.

When they report for work, PGA Assistants never know what tasks they may be asked to perform: fill up the golf carts, pick the practice range, or swim down and get a client's golf clubs from the bottom of the ocean.

Um, what?

That's exactly the position in which Fishers Island Club PGA Assistant Oliver Jones found himself recently during a charity outing. Because the club is a 45-minute ferry ride from the Connecticut mainland -- or 25 minutes by private charter -- everyone and everything comes via the club's dock on Connecticut Sound.

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Normally, that's not a big deal. But in this instance, a slip of the grip between handing one golf bag from the boat to the dock resulted in a near-disaster. The bag accidentally went overboard and into the water. Worse, the owner had no idea what had happened until the event coordinators found him.

"He was inside having brunch," Jones said. "They walked up and asked if one of them was left-handed — he and his brother both are — and they said, ‘Well, one of your clubs are in the water.’ He thought they were kidding. They walked back to the dock and there was the wet golf bag.

"They eventually fished out the bag with a gaff and got the woods, because they float. But when they tipped the bag, all the irons and the putter fell out and sank to the bottom."

Unfortunately, there weren't a lot of options at that point, Jones said.

"We only have one set of left-handed rentals and they’re Walter Hagen Shopko clubs that have been used one time -- because everybody who comes to Fishers Island brings their own equipment, especially if they’re lefty," he said.

Jones, a native of Montana, just learned to snorkel this summer, since the house some of the staffers is renting is right on the beach and they've found spearfishing a fun way to pass the time. With that in mind, when head pro Dan Colvin asked for volunteers, Jones was both willing and able.

However, finding golf clubs in 12 feet of water was easier said than done.

"I put on my swimsuit, fins and snorkel and jumped in the water," Jones said. "I looked straight down with the snorkel mask on and realized it was murky as could be from all the boat traffic. I couldn’t see anything."

Plus, Jones said sand sharks like to frequent that area -- they had caught a six-footer two weeks before -- so he was a little wary. But he wasn't willing to give up.

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"I dove down and swam all the way to the bottom, and couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me," Jones said. "I wound up finding the divot tool but no clubs. I brought that up, and we were kind of laughing at that point. So I went back down -- swiped my arm around -- and eventually hit some club shafts. I grabbed three or four clubs.

"After I brought those up, I asked, ‘How many clubs is he missing,’ and they didn’t know. So the next time, I moved a little closer to the dock -- and about the fifth try, there they were, sitting up like flowers on the bottom, since the grips float. So I picked up all five of them and brought them to the surface."

After not getting accepted to Stanford after high school, Jones was at a crossroads as to where he wanted to go. His father, a commodities trader in Montana, suggested his alma mater, New Mexico State University -- which just happens to have an excellent PGA golf management program.

Sadly, longtime head golf coach Larry Beem -- Rich's father -- died just recently.

"I was about a 12 index — I played football, not golf in high school," Jones said. "I took a tour of the facility and they told me, 'If you become a PGA apprentice student, you can go on internships and work anywhere in the country and potentially anywhere in the world.' And for someone who grew up in Montana and lived 18 years there, I wanted to travel and I love playing golf.

"I went down there and fell in love with the place. I went from a 12 index to a zero. I took the PAT about seven times before I passed it. Now I’m 23, a scratch golfer and a PGA member and been to five continents and been to 44 states."

Jones graduated from NMSU in 2013, spent some time at Bandon Dunes and then worked in New Zealand at Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs. Eventually he found his way to the east coast and Fishers Island. This winter, he'll be at the Plantation course at Kapalua, not a bad way to avoid Connecticut ice and snow.

So what's next?

"For me, I’m pretty content being an Assistant," Jones said. "I was elected in February of 2104, so it’ll be two years then. Most guys are an Assistant for about six years before they move onto to the next level. I’ll see where things take me."

And as far as doing something out of the ordinary that day? Jones brushed aside the idea that he was the hero. He just happened to be the first one to grab his snorkel. 

"I kind of figured I didn’t do anything that the other members of our staff wouldn’t have done," he said. "I just was in the right place to be able to help somebody out. At the end of the day, he gave us a nice tip and I shared it."