Al Collier, golf course superintendent at RAF Lakenheath, rides on one of the trusty steeds he uses to keep the links in good shape.

Al Collier, golf course superintendent at RAF Lakenheath, rides on one of the trusty steeds he uses to keep the links in good shape. (Ben Murray / S&S)

Nature is full of natural enemies. Cobra and mongoose, lion and wildebeest, Steve Irwin and a calm demeanor.

So, too, is the relationship between a golfer and the man who rides in a dented metal cart scooping balls off the driving range. The moment he appears on the grass, instant animosity is kindled, and golfers begin firing away at him with poorly-aimed worm burners and blinding line drives.

Now meet the man who used to drive that cart at RAF Lakenheath, Al Collier, 58, golf course superintendent for the base. Though he doesn’t ride around in “The Mule” anymore (managers now shut the range down while the balls are collected), Collier has seen a lot in his time as a golf course manager. A man passing out before finishing his putt? You bet.

When you would go out, did people instantly start trying to target The Mule?

I would like to say no, but I think they do.

Did you get offended by that?

No, because you know it’s going to happen. You sit and just mutter under your breath, “You stupid idiot …” Whatever, you know, you expect it. … But you go up and ask ‘em “Are you intentionally aiming at me?” And the answer’s always “No.”

Do you think it says something about human nature that as soon as some guy in a cart goes out there, everybody tries to whack balls at him?

Yeah, I think it’s just human nature. I’d probably try it myself if I was out there doing it. You know, “Gee, I wonder if I can hit that moving target?”

And what does it sound like when you’re in there. Is it a huge “Boom!”?

It’s not a big boom because it’s just a cage, you know, it’s not a cage over glass. Most of the time you don’t see ‘em coming and they hit it and you still duck, even though it’s already happened.

Based on what you’ve seen out there, do people have more of a hook or a slice?

A slice, more of a slice.

I’ve got a pretty vicious slice. What’s the most expensive thing I could damage with a really good drive?

A car windscreen.

How many balls do you pick up a day?

On an average day about 8,000 balls.

What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve seen a golfer on the course or on the range do?

One of the squadrons was having a tournament, [and] of course they allow them to drink out on the course. A young airman is on nine’s green, he walked out there on the green and he was going to putt his ball and he just - shoom! - went back, he passed out.

Have you had any close calls [with incoming shots]?

We’ve all had close calls but we learn to duck. The safest place is in the middle of the fairway. I know that sounds bizarre, but it’s true.

Do you golf much?

I am not a golfer. I love doing the work and I like to watch golf, but I have a bowling ball.

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