Callawassie Island, with its miles of rolling green golf courses, pocked invitingly with manicured greens, wide, winding fairways, and roguish sand traps, could tell you a golf story or two from its award-winning history. But guaranteed, there are none quite so entertaining and carefree as the ones told by the Callawassie Island Blind Squirrels.
Once upon a time in Western Pennsylvania, The Original Blind Squirrel Karen Murray, was on a mission to enjoy golf, but it wasn’t going as planned. Murray would head out, hoping to find the spark that her husband enjoyed on the course, as one of “9-holers” in their close-knit northern club. The 18-holers, however, were a little more serious (at least twice as much, if we’re doing the math right) about the rules. The “real” rules, that is. After all, rules were meant to be followed. When they left laminated copies in the locker room to remind the 9-holers just how the game was played, Murray went home and told her husband, “I guess I’m done because I tried, and I can’t go back. I can’t do this.” Good husband that he is, he decided she needed to see golf as a fun time, and “he’s absolutely right,” says Murray, “so he came up with an unofficial set of rules and gave everyone THAT copy. They’re just a spoof of the real rules and they’re really quite funny.”
It had such a positive effect on her ability to enjoy the game and the course that they brought the concept with them when they came to Callawassie, starting with just a few ladies who love to “just go out and play.” What’s behind the name? The saying, of course: “Even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while.” “Just like the squirrel,” Murray says, “we get the ball in the hole every once in a while. We have wonderful hits and the ball actually goes into the cup or out of the sand – I’d like to say we weren’t as good back then as we are now, but we probably still have a long way to go.”
Which is not only okay, it’s wonderfully whimsical. And it’s the very essence of the Blind Squirrels.
Enter “Queen Squirrel,” Joanne Amendola. In 2016 she took Murray’s idea and began to make tee times for about 12 who started to play with the group. “I remember one time it was 42 degrees and we all said, ‘what are we doing out on this course?’ But we also said, ‘if it kills us we’re going to play because we’re going to show them that we’ll be here – that we’re going to come back – every week.’”
So shall it be written, so shall it be golfed. The Blind Squirrels hold eight tee times on two different courses so there’s enough room for 32 squirrels to play on Wednesday – squirrel day. “We always play Wednesday afternoon between 12:57 and 1:06,” Amendola says with a bit of
a giggle (chitter?) from the other squirrels. She adds, “The best thing about being a squirrel is, after you play, whether you play really well or play really …squirrely, it doesn’t matter because we all go in and we have cocktails and talk about fun times golfing instead of stress or what we didn’t get right.” If one of those cocktails isn’t a pecan-tini, we may need to call Chef Rollison for some squirrel-themed ideas.
Enter Vice Squirrel, Linda Daniele. Daniele takes over when Amendola isn’t there (which has been more often during Amendola’s recent injury), and she shares the skinny on what happens in the squirrel hut once the game is done:
“When we go in and tell our stories and have our drinks and so-on, we also have this head cover that has a squirrel on it that was given to us by our old Assistant Pro here and we pass that on week by week depending on the story. The story can be a good one – someone got bridie on four holes out of nine; something they did that was fantastic or great. Another time it could be that you found a palm tree and your ball never came down, is still up there to this day. Or it could be you were in the sand on the hole that has five sand traps, going from one to the other to the other before you got out. The head cover goes to the best story – good, bad, or indifferent – as long as they had fun doing it.”
The group has their favorite memories of skittering about as well, like their group trip to Wild Dunes in Mount Pleasant near Charleston where they rented a house, golfed (not sure which set of rules they use out of town – what happens in Charleston…), made meals together, played games, and “learned more about each other than maybe we wanted to,” laughs Murray, but adds joking aside, “it’s a fun time to get to know people better.”
Asked their favorite part of being a Squirrel at home, it’s the same answer, just locally oriented: “I’ve met ladies I never would have met,” says Karen, “even if you’ve played with someone just once – it’s a non-threatening way to play the game and the point is just to go out, enjoy, have fun, and get together afterward.” It’s a relationship-builder if anything.
Amendola concurs and takes on the responsibility personally saying, “I try to play with every new member the first time they play and to make sure whether we’re playing with the nine or eighteen holers, everyone understands we don’t have same rules; this is just a fun thing and one rule is you cannot tell anyone what they did wrong or should have done.” Knowing how this affects camaraderie, even the “good golfers” as the squirrels jokingly say, wanted to be squirrels. “They’ve paid their dues,” says Amendola, “and they just want to have fun and play a stress-free game. But we tell them you might get a lot of questions if you play with us,” from squirrels who want to up their game a little.
The squirrels who play together, also play together, gathering for regular ongoing social events and parties. They have a Christmas party, Halloween, Savannah Bananas outing, paddlers overlap, and a beach day or two because this is Hilton Head after all.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the beach with a group for twenty or more women,” says Amendola. We sit in a circle and we get questions about whether we’re a family reunion or why we’re there. Of course, we say, ‘We’re the Blind Squirrels,’” and that just spawns more questions, some of which hint at the fact these ladies may be spawning other groups across the island and on Bluffton courses.
Having grown from 12 members to 75+, dues are $10 a year, to wit the squirrels joke about breaking the bank, but also point out in the same breath that the group gives to Hopeful Horizons (for battered women and children) and do an internal Christmas present exchange. They’ve also taken an annual club portrait every year – and they invite anyone reading this to see themselves in the next group picture.
How do you join? Daniele says, “You just say, ‘I want to be a squirrel!’ Look at the schedule on Wednesday where we’re blocked out in yellow and sign up. Even if it’s booked, just ask and we can usually fit you in right before or after because others don’t really want to play right before or after the squirrels.” They all laugh pretending to wonder why. “It’s not men’s or women’s day,” finishes Linda, “it’s just Blind Squirrel day.”