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Talkin' Turkey Davis Love III can't camouflage the ardor he feels for his top nongolf pastime: hunting wild turkey

April 22, 2002
April 22, 2002

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April 22, 2002

Golf Plus

Talkin' Turkey Davis Love III can't camouflage the ardor he feels for his top nongolf pastime: hunting wild turkey

It's a ritual of their friendship that when Fred Couples visits
Davis Love III and his family at their house on St. Simons
Island, Ga., he makes the following observation: "You guys got
way too much going on here." Davis's son, Dru, is a skillful
eight-year-old baseball player, and the father is the boy's
principal pitching coach. Davis's daughter, Lexie, 13, is an
accomplished equestrian--she rides Paso Fino horses, which are
known for their smooth gait--and he accompanies her to shows
throughout the South, sometimes competing himself. Davis follows
stock car racing closely (and has dabbled in it as a driver). He
owns and rides motorcycles. He's a fisherman, both deep-sea, for
marlin, and on the flats of the Bahamas, fly rod in hand, seeking
the elusive bonefish. He's a duck hunter and a deer hunter, and
in the past year or so he has become a turkey hunter, a turkey
caller and a collector of turkey calls. It's more than a
fascination for him. He's way into everything turkey.

This is an article from the April 22, 2002 issue

There are three tracts of land in Georgia particularly important
to Love. There's the six-acre lot on which he and his family
live, with a view of the low country marshlands. There's the
365-acre former nursery on which the Augusta National Golf Club
was built. (One of Love's most significant unfulfilled golfing
goals is to win a green jacket and receive the honorary Augusta
National membership that comes with it, so he can return to the
club for the rest of his life.) Then there's the 2,800-acre
parcel he purchased two years ago off I-95 in south Georgia,
right beside a big piece of land owned by his friend and hunting
mentor, Bill Jones III. The land is excellent for all manner of
hunting, particularly wild turkey hunting.

Last week Love played in the Masters and led by a stroke after
the first round. He finished tied for 14th. The week before that,
he played the PGA Tour stop outside Atlanta, a tune-up for the
Masters. (He missed the cut.) The week before that, over the
Easter weekend, he was turkey hunting deep in the Jones-Love
woods, on parcels with ancestral names and murky swamps and
remnants of plank bridges built by slave labor two centuries ago.

Anybody who knows Love would not be surprised at how he ranks
these three Georgia sporting events (the Masters first, turkey
hunting second, the BellSouth Classic at the TPC at Sugarloaf
third). The Easter hunting expedition was particularly important
to Love because he and Jones had flown in a special guest: Neil
(Gobbler) Cost, 78, widely regarded as the greatest turkey-call
maker alive. On his bookshelves on St. Simon's Island, Love has
two Cost books, The Gobbler's Shop and Neil Cost Talks Turkey. He
has two dozen or so prized Cost turkey calls, beautiful
hand-shaped wood boxes, some of which cost more than $2,500. Some
are as big as a model train locomotive, others as small as a
kid's harmonica. The calls are, in effect, thin-walled, vibrating
musical instruments that are scratched, tapped and stroked to
produce a sound like that of a mating hen.

On the night before Easter, Love had the chance to meet the
maker. "Mr. Cost, would it be asking too much to have you sign
this call for me?" Love said. Cost, who was only vaguely aware of
Love's golf career, was happy to oblige. Love beamed. It's
doubtful he'd ever looked so content on the course, even in
victory.

It wasn't easy getting Cost from his home in Greenwood, S.C., to
a hunting cabin on Jones's Broadfield Plantation. Cost has
emphysema and uses an oxygen tank almost constantly, even while
smoking cigarettes, which he does several times an hour. He has
to monitor his food and medicine intake precisely and needs
someone to be with him pretty much around-the-clock. Jones flew
in Cost on a private plane for the extended weekend.

Cost's calls are a prized collectible for both hunters and
folk-art buffs. Jones owns about 75 of them. Calls that Cost sold
for $25 about 30 years ago, such as his exquisite 1971 Old Death
+ Destruction, now sell at auctions for as much as $10,000. Jones
collects turkey-hunting books, too, and naturally owns all the
Cost titles. After a Saturday night "campfire"--an elegant fish
dinner for a dozen hunters served deep in the woods by a staff of
four--Jones sought Cost's signature on the books that bear his
name.

"But the books can wait till morning if that'd suit you better,"
said Jones, a courtly Southerner with a city man's instinct for
getting things done.

"Nah, let's have 'em now," Cost said. "Who knows if I'll be here
in the morn."

It was a grand occasion, having serious turkey buffs spend four
days with a turkey-hunting master, but there was some confusion
over why the get-together was happening. Love thought Cost was
coming in to bag his last turkey, for he's barely able to hunt or
even venture into the woods alone. Cost thought he was there to
help Love call and bag his first turkey. On the first night the
confusion was set straight, to the degree it needed to be.

"Mr. Cost," Love said at one point, "when was the last time you
bagged a turkey?"

"I killed my last turkey on the 16th day of March, 1999, in
Okeechobee, Florida," Cost said. His illness has made him a twig
of a man, barely 100 pounds, with an artificial leg and an
artificial eye--legacies of World War II. His voice is lively,
though, surprisingly loud, almost youthful, as is his gait. When
he "sets" in a comfortable chair, barely making a dent in the
cushion, it seems he'll never rise again, but then he'll suddenly
pop up, using his oxygen tank as an arm support, and trot over to
wherever he's wanted next.

"I know the date because that's the day my wife done gone and
skipped out on me after 18 years of marriage," Cost said. "She'd
had enough of me and my hunting. She was a good Christian woman,
but she thought I liked hunting more than being married, and she
was probably more right than wrong in that.

"Anyway, I've killed my damn share of turkeys. Don't care if I
never git another one. I'd much rather see you, Davis, call up
and bag yer first turkey."

Love was far too polite to tell Cost he had already called up and
shot turkeys, even as an "18-handicap" turkey hunter, as he
described himself. He viewed Cost as the turkey world's Harvey
Penick, the wizened and wise Texas teaching pro who taught Love's
father how to play and teach golf. In truth, Cost is probably
closer to Tommy Bolt. He works blue. He would have left Penick
blushing.

In the presence of the great man Love didn't talk about himself.
Away from Cost he described why his various hobbies and interests
are so important to him. "There's a feeling you get in
competitive golf when you're totally lost in the moment," Love
said. "I might get that feeling a couple times a year. I think
we're all trying to figure out how Tiger gets it so often. It's
an incredible feeling: You don't hear the crowd or your caddie or
the guys you're playing with. You're not aware of anything except
the ball and the hole. You feel excited, you feel nervous, you
feel peaceful, all at the same time.

"When I'm not playing competitive golf, I still need to have
those feelings. I get it turkey hunting. I've wanted to give
turkey hunting a serious try for years, but I never could because
the turkey season is in the spring when I'm playing a lot. Then
last year I had to rest my neck and back for five weeks in April
and May, and they let me hunt. I hunted turkey, and I was hooked.

"Shooting the turkey doesn't do that much for me. What I love is
communicating with the gobbler, calling the bird out of the tree,
getting the turkey closer and closer until it might be within
five yards of you before you scare it off. When you're calling,
your hands are sweating. You're concentrating. It's just like
playing a shot with a tournament on the line."

On Easter Sunday, Love rose long before the first light and
headed out with his Cost calls and his maternal grandfather's
shotgun in search of a turkey. Love is normally loyal to his Polo
contract, even when he's off-duty, but on this morning he was
not. He wore boots the color of dirt, camouflage pants, a
camouflage shirt, camouflage gloves. Over his head he wore a
camouflage net that dangled around his shoulders, for even the
whites of a hunter's eyes can scare a turkey away.

"Out to feed the bugs," Love said, cracking an old turkey-hunting
quip. For most of the early morning he was dead silent, for
turkeys have better hearing than Colin Montgomerie. They're great
motion detectors too. If a mosquito gets inside your netting, you
don't dare swat it away if there's a turkey in the neighborhood.
Scratch your nose, and a turkey can be spooked.

Love walked the woods confidently; he knows the land well. He and
Jones have been hunting these parts for decades. The wildlife on
their properties is professionally managed, so they know their
turkey population is just right but that they have more deer than
the land can support and also have an overabundance of
rattlesnakes and of armadillos, "which are our New York rat,"
Love said. In rural Georgia, if you see an armadillo or a rattler
on the road, you kill it. Love saw a rattler slithering across
the road the other day. He stopped his truck, pulled out a
two-iron from his golf bag and made one decisive whack across
the snake's head, killing it. "Man," said a friend hunting with
Love that day. "You guys are good."

The Easter morning hunt was unproductive for Love--that's often
the case, even for the best turkey hunters--and afterward he went
to church with his wife, Robin, and their children. Then there
was lunch, and following lunch there was a children's egg hunt,
but all the while Love was thinking about getting back into the
woods. Robin gave him a pass; she knew what his days with Cost
meant to him.

He spent the afternoon driving around Broadfield in a Land Rover
with Jones behind the wheel and Cost riding shotgun, looking for
turkey haunts. Twice Jones saw an armadillo in the road. He
stopped his vehicle 30 yards away, got out his rifle and shot the
animal dead. Twice, with the armadillo's tail still wiggling and
the rest of its body stilled, Cost said, right on cue, "G'night,
darlin'." Then he resumed his discourse on the ways of the
turkey.

Near dusk Cost, Jones and Love came upon a member of their
turkey-hunting party, Jim Jones, who isn't related to Bill. He
had just emerged from the woods and was standing on the side of
the road, two beautiful gobblers at his feet, a wicked grin on
his face.

"You got 'em stacked up like cordwood," Bill called out to him.
Cost nodded approvingly.

"Coulda had a third," Jim shouted back. He looked triumphant.
Later, back at the camp, Love looked admiringly at Jim and his
birds and said, "He's all jacked up." Love understood exactly the
sort of exhilaration Jim was experiencing. He has felt it in his
life on the golf course, off the course, too. He looks for that
feeling wherever he goes.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Taking dead aim Even when he doesn't fire a shot, Love says he gets the same exhilaration from turkey hunting that he does from competing in a golf tournament.COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Dinner is ready On Easter Sunday, Love couldn't keep up with Jim Jones, another member of the party, who bagged two birds.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Studying with the master Love and Bill Jones (far right) got a lesson in turkey-call construction from the legendary Cost. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Bagging birdies Last Thursday, Love was in the hunt for the prize he wants most, a green jacket, but his lead evaporated on Friday.COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID WALBERG Weekend to remember Talking with Cost and having him sign one of his calls were major thrills for Love.
"When you call a turkey, your hands sweat," says Love, "like
you're playing a shot to win a tournament."
"There's a feeling in golf when you're totally lost in the
moment," says Love. "I need that feeling outside golf too."
Love saw Cost as the turkey world's Harvey Penick, the pro who
taught Love's father how to play.