Wielding a sledge hammer to break up concrete from around a steel lock-box on Thursday, Mike Zuercher could only shake his head in frustration and disgust.
“This is crazy,” he muttered.
Despite his best efforts, thieves had done it again. They’d raided the cash box at Island Greens Golf Course and Driving Range on French Road in Clinton. They’ve hit the place nearly half a dozen times this year alone, stealing cash, clubs, golf balls, anything they could get there hands on. And what they can’t successfully steal, they destroy.
This time the thieves broke into a reinforced one-fourth-inch steel lock-box that he anchored into the parking lot with cement. Yet, they found its Achilles heel — a locking hinge — and, with brute force, tore it apart.
There was no cash in the mini vault, as Zuercher had long ago began emptying it several times a day. But that was of little comfort as he overhand swung the sledge hammer to remove the busted box from its concrete bed so it could be taken away for repairs.
“Here you can see, I’ve outsmarted myself,” said Zuercher, referring to his security measure-turned-nightmare.
According to Zuercher, the golf club has been the target of burglars for the past three years. They’ve seem to have doubled their efforts in 2017. He’s only recently begun reporting the burglaries to police. Currently, the Island County Sheriff’s Office has two open criminal cases: one for thousands of golf balls that were recently ripped off from a token operated machine, and the other for this week’s lock-box break-in.
Deputy Grant Walker said it’s unclear why the golf course is being targeted. French Road isn’t a hot spot for burglaries, and there isn’t a lot of payoff for thieves’ efforts. This was a good example; it was likely a lot of work to get into the cash box only to find it empty. That might work in the business’s favor in future, he said, as whoever is responsible won’t forget the lack of reward.
Sheriff’s deputies don’t have any leads to date, but they aren’t opposed to a good old fashioned stakeout, especially if the place continues to be burglarized. Last month, Walker said the car wash in Bayview was also being repeatedly hit by burglars. Deputy Scott Davis decided enough was enough and began camping out in the bushes nearby with night-vision goggles.
It took a few evenings, but eventually one morning at 2:45 a.m. he spotted a man trying to break in, Walker said. He called for back up, South Whidbey cops came rushing in and Davis got his guy — the suspect remains in Island County jail, Walker said.
It was a good tactic, and could, perhaps, be repeated at Island Green if necessary, Walker said.
Island Greens wasn’t always a bust for thieves. It operates on the honor system, asking users to drop a few bucks into the secured box at the parking lot. The original “safe” was broken into several times, the evidence of which remains visible on the old money pot. Some appeared as large cuts in the thin metal, while other efforts were more inventive — a thin stick dipped in tree sap was being used to reach into the holes and remove bills.
Walker confirmed Winnie-the-Pooh is not a suspect, but that this is likely the work of a single individual as opposed to multiple and unconnected burglars.
“My gut feeling is it’s the same person hitting it over and over,” he said.
Zuercher is fed up. The course isn’t what you’d call a money maker, he said, generating just enough to keep the doors open. He claimed owner Lucy Vanderwendy keeps it alive largely because it’s a South Whidbey “icon,” but that if the costs associated with the burglaries became too much the course could be shut down.
So far, he estimated losses in the realm of $2,700 this year alone. That includes lost receipts, repairs and replacing stolen inventory, such as clubs and golf balls.
John Crane, a retired golfer who does a couple rounds a week, said he loves the course and that it would be a shame to lose it to petty crime.
“Stuff like this is just, well… I don’t know,” he said. “I hate to see it on the island.”
“It’s just pathetic,” he added.
Zuercher is looking into installing security cameras in the area, but admitted it may be beyond his budget and definitely beyond his skill set.
“I’m the superintendent of a golf course, not a tech guy,” he said.
Members of the public and course patrons have already stepped up to assist with other tasks, such as helping with the lock-box, and he’s hoping someone will come forward to assist here as well.
He can be reached at 360-579-6042. Anyone with tips about the burglaries are urged to report them to the sheriff’s office by calling 911.