Golf course dog bit by economy, loses job and home

Zimba played by all the office rules for six years. She showed up, paid attention and survived office politics.

When she started messing up, the Alfred “Tup” Holmes Golf Course decided she needed to retire.

Zimba didn’t just lose her job. She’s losing her pen behind the seventh tee, where her job performance exiled her.

“She used to run geese and other dogs off the course, but she got tired of that and started running on the street,” said Francisco Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of the course within earshot of the busy traffic on Campbellton Road. “We got worried about her.”

Her co-workers say that workplace turnover hurt Zimba, a cross between a Rottweiler and who knows what. To survive, golf courses keep (human) staffing costs to a minimum, course superintendent Mark Goessling said. Nobody has ever been there long enough to really train her.

“Now she is the alpha dog and does what she wants to do,” Goessling said.

A good golf course dog, as Zimba once was, keeps the squirrels and birds in the trees.

“She would show up at the office when we got here and just go out on the course,” equipment technician Hank Allen said. “Before we left, she would be back after a lot of exercise.”

A reliable mascot gives golfers a reason to carry dog treats in their bags. Instead of throwing clubs in anger, they could toss the dog a stick.

Across town at Stone Mountain Golf Club, a Labrador mix named Cushman (after the golf equipment company) has earned room and board for 15 years.

“He no longer has the speed to chase many geese, but his heart and character have made him the most popular member of the staff,” superintendent Anthony Williams said. “He is a goodwill ambassador and pretty good security system.”

Golf course maintenance -- remember Bill Murray in “Caddyshack”? -- can be isolating. Preserving golf greens from wildlife damage can be aggravating. Dogs solve both.

“There are stories of dogs winning employee of the year because they often do what couldn’t be done, like scare off geese, any other way,” said Bill Newton, a spokesman for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. There's even a calendar of golf course dogs.

Amid all the ups and downs around her, Zimba started confusing work with play. "A people dog" who loves to nuzzle, Zimba got too close to the customers.

“A golfer likes to drive a cart with the right foot and the left foot dangling out, and Zimba would chase them and want to play,” Goessling said.

“But people who didn’t know her thought they were being attacked. Then she got interested in golf balls, and some golfers ended up with different lies [locations] than they thought they had.”

When snow closed the course, Goessling still made his hour commute to feed Zimba. Her water bowl was frozen. With her freedom curtailed, it was time for a change.

She is limited to running on a line between her pen and the seventh fairway. The only excitement is the occasional golf ball that sails into her fenced yard. A bigger hazard: packs of stray dogs. An attack left a palm-size scar on her back leg. “She is just bait on a line,” Goessling said.

Everyone decided Zimba needs a better work-life fit.

Heading the search is Kim Dawson, a course regular and pet lover who for five years had kept Zimba registered and vaccinated by the same vet. Dawson got Zimba’s photo into the Atlanta Humane Society’s 2011 fundraising calendar. She created Facebook's Adopt Zimba page and e-mail (

If a new owner or golf course can’t be found, Dawson is raising funds to sponsor Zimba’s care at the Humane Society shelter until she is adopted.

“Maybe someone in Peachtree City could take her,” Dawson said. “Zimba loves to ride in a golf cart.”