‘Bad golfer’ finds elderly man stuck in wash on Sunbrook Golf Course

Members of the St. George Fire Department respond to help rescue a man in his early 80s who had become disoriented and stuck in the lava on the Sunbrook Golf Course, St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Todd Albrecht, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A man in his early 80s was rescued Saturday on the Sunbrook Golf Course when a golfer heard his pleas for help near the seventh hole of the Blackrock course.

Adam VanValkenburg was part of one of the last groups of golfers out on the course Saturday evening. He was trying to make a 90-yard shot over a hazard, he said, but things were not going well.

Colby Cowan, director of golf for the city of St. George, told St. George News the seventh hole on the Blackrock course is a par-4 hole where golfers have to hit over the lava and water.

VanValkenburg had hit four golf balls straight into the lava before giving up on clearing it.

“I thought, ‘Well I am not going to clear this,’ so instead of getting too frustrated, I just got back into the cart,” VanValkenburg said.

This is nothing especially new for VanValkenburg, who said he is typically not the greatest golfer. His brother-in-law and fellow golfer that day, Todd Albrecht, said he had never seen VanValkenburg hit that many balls into the hazard before.

VanValkenburg offered a theory as to why he might have been having such a bad day.

“I figured out Saturday there was a reason for that,” he said.

Rather than leave his expensive golf balls in the lava, VanValkenburg decided to go retrieve them.

Albrecht said he let his brother-in-law out of the cart to go find his errant golf balls and continued driving.

While VanValkenburg was walking along the ridge, he heard someone ask for help.

Emergency personnel from Gold Cross Ambulance and the St. George Fire Department respond to rescue a man in his early 80s who had become disoriented and stuck in the lava on the Sunbrook Golf Course, St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Todd Albrecht, St. George News

I looked down in the gully near the water, and there was an (older) man,” he said.

The elderly man wasn’t golfing, but he was in the lava looking for golf balls, VanValkenburg said, adding that he had a ball retriever with him.

When VanValkenburg found the man, he was disoriented and dizzy, had been throwing up and was unable to recall exactly how long he had been out there or even his own phone number.

The man could not get himself out of the lava because he was still dizzy and weak, so VanValkenburg yelled for his brother-in-law, who called 911 to rescue the man.

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said the Fire Department and Gold Cross ambulance responded and placed the man in a stokes basket to remove him from the area and bring him to the ambulance, where he was transported to the hospital.

The man, 82-year-old Kay Bills, had experienced a stroke, his wife later confirmed.

With the sun heading down and very few people left on the golf course, Bills could very easily have not been found.

“Nobody knew he was out there,” Cowan said.

Sunbrook Golf Course head golf professional Reed McArthur said very few people go into the lava to find their errant golf balls because it is difficult and potentially dangerous, and the sharp rocks often knick the golf balls up.

It was lucky that VanValkenburg had had such a rough day on the links.

“It was a combination of being at the right place at the right time and being a bad golfer,” VanValkenburg said. “I had to be for this moment.”

Bills is still in the hospital and will likely be there recovering for a while, but his wife said she believes he will be OK.

“He saved Kay’s life,” Linda Loud Bills said of VanValkenburg, adding that even though she does not know him, she loves and appreciates him for what he did for her husband.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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