WATERLOO, Ill. — It sure wasn’t the hole-in-one Mark Mihal had in mind.
While golfing with friends at the Annbriar Golf Course near here Friday, Mihal, 43, a mortgage broker from Creve Coeur, Mo., abruptly dropped into the ground on the fairway of the 14th hole. It was the first time a person — and not a ball — has disappeared beneath the turf in the course’s 20-year history.
It also was the first time in the memory of folks who study sinkholes in Illinois that a person has fallen into one.
“I was standing in the middle of the fairway,” Mihal said Monday. “Then, all of a sudden, before I knew it, I was underground.”
Mihal said he fell into the mud floor of an enclosure shaped like a bell, up to 18 feet deep and 10 feet wide. The rescue was precarious, he said, because no one knew whether the surface hole would grow or the enclosure would collapse.
A companion called the course’s pro shop, where general manager Russ Nobbe gathered some rope and a ladder and rushed to the rescue. Mihal had dislocated his shoulder, so Ed Magaletta, a friend and a real estate agent, climbed down and put a rope around Mihal’s waist so he could be hoisted to safety.
Philip Moss, a geologist who examined the void, said sinkholes are usually visible. But Mihal said he was standing still as the ground gave way beneath him.
“This guy just really was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Moss said.
Sinkholes are common in the St. Louis region, he said, because the bedrock here is limestone. It can dissolve in rainwater, which makes an opening he calls a “conduit.” Those large enough to accommodate people are called caves. New openings usually reveal themselves during or right after heavy rain.
“It’s a gradual process that creates a void in the soil,” Moss explained. “Over time, (the void) migrates upward through the soil to where the soil arch gets too thin to support the weight of what’s over it, and it collapses.”
Mihal, an avid golfer who owns a website called golfmanna.com, said he can laugh now, even though the bruises remain. He said he is getting more medical tests to make sure the dislocated shoulder is the worst of his injuries.
When friends ask if he plans to golf again, he says, “Sure.”
But he’s not so sure about Annbriar, explaining, “It’d be kind of strange playing that hole again, for sure.”
(c)2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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St. Louis area golfer swallowed up by fairway sinkhole
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