Freemont Country Club, the city’s most prestigious golf club, wasn’t known for the degree of difficulty of its course, the landscape, or its prominent members. Instead, it was well-known for the recent unexplained deaths that occurred there

Yes, death on the golf course, one of the most serene places to be. On the links, one is supposed to be at peace, or a round of golf can also be a social event, time well spent with friends and colleagues. But during that summer, only the diehard golfers played at Freemont. 

The first death occurred in June. On his way home from work, Tom Shanks dropped by to play nine holes. That turned out to be a big mistake. He was playing by himself and was in a bit of a hurry, as he had promised his wife he’d be home for dinner on time. Consequently, when his tee shot went into the rough on the 8th hole, he didn’t think twice before giving it a “florsheim,” nudging it back into the fairway with the tip of his shoe. This turned out to be more than a one-stroke penalty. It cost him his life. Shanks never did get to “hole out.”

He was found about 200 yards away from the green with the imprint of a club on his forehead. The authorities could almost make out the word “niblick” in the impression. It baffled authorities because a niblick is an antiquated club similar to a 9-iron, very rare in this day and age. And, although Shanks’ clubs were recovered nearby, they were all brand new, the latest model with the most up-to-date technology.

Investigators couldn’t positively rule the incident a murder, as no weapon was found and there were no witnesses. The mystery remained unsolved and business as usual resumed at the country club, at least for a few days.

Not even a week later, another golfer, Dan True, went into the woods to retrieve a misdirected shot and was never seen alive again.

Gordie Kaps, John Cease, and Jeff Berry, the three men who had been in Dan’s foursome for the past 10 years, were questioned after the alleged murder. Officer Dale Kirwitz asked them to describe the events leading up to the death and provide other information on True.

“You were on the 9th hole, just about to make the turn when Mr. True hit an erratic shot with his five-iron. I believe he ‘sliced’ the ball, that is, the ball went into the woods on the right,” Officer Kirwitz confirmed with the men. “Now, can you tell me, how was Mr. True as a person, and can you tell me more about that day?” 

“Danny was always a mediocre player, but … he liked to embellish a little. This one time he went to Arizona and said he shot par, but when we played Currie Park here at home, he could barely break 100. He liked to give himself improved lies and he would hit shots over again if he mis-hit them. We all noticed,” Kaps told him.

“That day? Danny had taken quite a few ‘mulligans.’ You know, taking another shot when he didn’t like the original? As Gordie said, we let him get away with it. Heck, we acted like we weren’t paying attention. If that makes, er, made Danny feel good about himself and it didn’t affect our scores, we didn’t care,” Cease added. 

“Yeah, I’m just as bad a player as Dan is, er, was,” Berry admitted. “But the difference between me and Dan is that I never cheat. I mean, if we’re not competing, why should I say I shot a lower score? I’d only be fooling myself.” Officer Kirwitz scribbled a note before turning back to the men.

“Thank you, gentlemen. I do have one more question,” he said, looking off toward the woods where the body was discovered. “We’ve given Mr. True a thorough autopsy and it appears that he was strangled to death. Nearby, in some bushes, we found an old ‘mashie.’ I’m sure you know that that’s a very old Scottish five-iron. The mashie was mangled, and the grooves in Mr. True’s neck matched the ones on the clubface. Did Mr. True own a mashie?”

The men all shook their heads no. Officer Kirwitz closed his notebook.

“If Mr. True didn’t own one, then we’ll have to conclude his death was not accidental and therefore murder. Mashies — and niblicks for that matter — are still manufactured in Scotland. Our investigative team is in contact with the Golf Preservation Society, or GPS, which is the only company who is apparently still trying to preserve that type of equipment and the traditional ethics of the game.” 

Unfortunately, Shanks and True weren’t the only victims that summer. The brakes were cut on a motorized golf cart, throwing two golfers at full speed into the shallow end of the club swimming pool, where they hit their heads on the bottom, broke their necks, and died on impact. The week after that, a man was found “stoned” to death with old-fashioned penrod golf balls. His “titanium oversized” driver and graphite-shafted clubs were missing from his golf bag. These and other mysterious happenings perplexed the police and each case was left unsolved.

Attempts to reach the Golf Preservation Society in Scotland led to an end as dead as the golfers at Freemont. It turned out that a man named Liam McDivot headed the American chapter of the GPS, but he’d been missing for quite some time. In order to further the investigation in the cases where the old equipment had been used, McDivot was crucial. They were stymied.

Meanwhile, Peter Hooker, General Manager of the Freemont Country Club, was also questioned about the deaths. In the course of the proceedings, he noticed a missing person’s poster with an old, out-of-focus picture of McDivot, and something caught his eye. It was the cap McDivot was sporting in the picture. Where had he seen that cap before? It looked just like a standard old man’s golf cap — flat cap in green plaid with a red tassel on top, but this one was unique. There, on the left side, was a silver cap badge bearing what appeared to be a family crest. A light went on in Hooker’s mind — his groundskeeper had a hat just like it!

Hooker visited Frederick Ashworth, his groundskeeper, that afternoon. He wanted to confirm his suspicions before going to the authorities. Hooker arrived at the shack and rang the special doorbell that triggered flickering lights to let Ashworth, who was deaf, know someone was at the door. When no one answered, Hooker let himself in with the master key. 

The space had remained sparsely decorated, save for an old desk and a sunken couch that sometimes doubled as a bed. Yet amidst the usual array of grounds tools was a picture of what looked like just a windy beach. However, on closer inspection, a knowledgeable golfer could clearly see that it was a “links course,” the original style of course in Scotland. A links course is typically flatter and sandier than most normal courses in the States, with few water hazards, trees and man-made additions. 

As Hooker looked around the rest of the small metal shed, his eyes landed on Ashworth’s desk. A few coffee mugs littered the space, along with a small stainless steel flask and a short, amber-colored glass bottle with a cork stopper, the label scraped off. Hooker began to open the drawers, searching for what he didn’t know. A yardage book fell to the floor and as Hooker bent to pick it up, he realized the book wasn’t filled with detailed descriptions of each of Freemont’s 18 holes, but rather, a grisly plan to sneak arsenic into the club’s food. Just as he finished reading, Hooker heard a noise.

“Looking for something, laddie?” asked the man with the Scottish accent. As Hooker turned toward the door, he saw that it was the man he knew as Frederick Ashworth who had spoken … the same man Hooker had been led to believe was deaf and could not speak. 

Ashworth moved closer to Hooker, brandishing a small metal tool in his right hand.

“Hello there, Frederick,” Hooker replied, trying to buy himself some time and potentially diffuse the situation.

“Do you know what this is, Hooker, or is this outdated?” Ashworth asked, thrusting the tool at his throat, his chest heaving.

“It’s … a divot repair tool,” Hooker replied shakily, backing up against the wall. He scanned the room for anything he might be able to grab to fend off the Scotsman. 

Ashworth continued closing in on him. Hooker feared for his life and called upon the golf gods to intervene. Just then, as he thought he was headed for the 19th hole in the sky, Officer Kirwitz and his team burst through the door and seized Ashworth.

It turned out that, fortunately for Hooker, a detective had been following him because Hooker was a suspect. (When there’s a murder, everyone’s a suspect.) When Hooker went to the shack and Ashworth showed up, the detective alerted the police just in time to thwart another murder. 

Ashworth was detained for questioning. During his interrogation, his true identity was revealed to be the “missing” Liam McDivot of the GPS. He readily admitted to committing all the murders. The media had a field day with the case, and, after the trial, as everyone exited the courtroom and spilled out onto the steps of the courthouse, Ashworth/McDivot was ready when the throngs of reporters thrust their microphones into his face.

“You Americans shame the great game of the Scots with your disrespect for basic rules and care for the course. You use your fancy clubs and motorized buggies. You ride when you should be walking! You always want more and you cheat and lie to get your way. You aren’t real golfers. You are playing the game of fools. Everyone who died deserved it! I’m willing to serve time for what I’ve done and I’m not the least bit sorry. This is a warning to everyone: Remember the rules and traditions!” McDivot cried as two armed guards hauled him off to prison.

The murders ended at Freemont Country Club, but besides that, more things changed.  Although he was a backstabbing murderer, the things McDivot said rang true with Hooker and the club’s board. They had become quite lax in their standards and weren’t doing their part to preserve the integrity of the game. 

Soon after McDivot was sentenced to life in prison, at Freemont golf carts were removed and golfers were required to walk the course. The layout was redesigned by a Scotsman. Rules were enforced as much as possible, and the course was eventually certified by the Golf Preservation Society, as conforming to the standards of upholding the tradition and ethics of the game. Turns out that GPS is, at heart, a well-meaning society, certainly not as harsh as McDivot.

Caitlin Moyer

Caitlin Moyer has been hacking and hoping since she was 10. Over the course of her career in the sports industry, she's had the chance to play the game with LPGA, MLB and NBA players, as well as NASCAR drivers and celebrities, but her favorite playing partner is her dad (even though he is a stick). Inventor and sole practitioner of the one-flap™ golf swing (patent pending).