OGDEN — It’s 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in August as the 29th Street trailhead’s parking lot starts to fill up.
A blue pickup truck with a camper on the back turns into the parking lot and finds a spot. Arnie Smith walks out and opens the back of his truck, revealing a kennel and an anxious yellow Labrador retriever.
He’s barely opened the kennel door and Gabby jets out like a blur, excited for her walk.
Gabby is a hunting dog coming on 7 years old. Smith frequently goes to South Dakota to hunt ducks and pheasants and such.
“She’s the best hunting dog I’ve ever owned,” says the 82-year-old Smith.
But this isn’t any normal walk. It’s golf ball time and Gabby knows it.
Golf ball time? Oh, yes.
Smith and Gabby walk beside a fence and on to the seventh hole at Mt. Ogden Golf Course. Gabby dives into the brush on the right side of the fairway. One can hear her rustling in there.
Sometimes it takes 10 seconds, other times a minute. But she almost always emerges with a golf ball in her mouth. She drops it in front of Smith, gets a treat and heads back into the brush.
“Find a ball, get a treat!” Smith says. Gabby comes back less than a minute later with another ball, proudly displaying it between her teeth.
Two golfers in a cart drive down the hill into the small ravine in front of the green. They stop and say hello to Smith before Gabby shows up again with another ball.
“Your dog’s looking for the — ohhhh what’s up pup? Oh my gosh, you found a ball! Oh that’s funny, now that’s the way to do it,” one of the golfers says while laughing as Smith gives Gabby a treat.
Maybe 15 seconds later, she’s back with another ball.
“That’s the best dog I’ve ever seen in my life right there. I love it, oh my gosh, oh that’s awesome, that made my day — oh look, another one!” the golfer says.
Smith and Gabby frequently walk this section of the golf course. A couple years ago on one such walk, Smith had a few golf balls with him and tossed them into the brush to see if Gabby would find them. She brought them back and kept going in for more.
Over the couple years he’s brought his dog to the golf course, Smith estimates she’s found “a couple thousand” balls.
“Can you believe there’s that many golf balls here?” he says.
But he doesn’t keep them.
In the Cellar Barber Shop on the corner of 24th Street and Harrison Boulevard in Ogden, there’s a container stuffed full of golf balls.
That’s where Smith gets his hair cut. Every now and then, he’ll drop off some golf balls for anyone to take.
“He’s a wonderful, good man,” said Melissa Morrison, the owner of Cellar Barber Shop. “He just keeps bringing them in and filling them up. I get quite a large amount of prominent clients that come in here ... they all golf and most of them are probably their golf balls they’ve lost.”
On this particular Tuesday at Mt. Ogden Golf Course, Smith and Gabby walk for around an hour. It’s fun and it’s exercise. When they get back to his truck, Smith counts the balls in his bag.
There’s 40 of them. Found in one hour.
“There’s Callaway and Titleist Pro V1’s, they’re expensive golf balls,” Smith says, looking at Gabby’s newest exploit.
Gabby was a rescue dog and Smith estimates she was around 9-10 months old when he got her.
He’s not sure why she took to finding golf balls so fast. He initially thought it was the smell of his hands on the golf balls that he first threw into the brush, but there’s other times where Gabby will dig for a few seconds before unearthing a ball and Smith thought maybe it’s the smell of the mold accumulating on the golf balls as they sit under leaves.
“If you just stand here and shoot the breeze and talk she just works the one area, but she likes to go in and out, in and out and as long as I’m standing here, she’ll work the area,” Smith said.
The barber shop isn’t the only beneficiary of Gabby’s propensity for finding golf balls and Smith’s generosity.
He’s donated them to Ogden and Ben Lomond’s golf programs, his friends, family, church programs, various other programs and the yearly Ben Lomond alumni golf get-together.
Initially, there were kids in his neighborhood who ran lemonade stands and he’d drop golf balls off to them so they could sell them for a quarter. Those kids grew up and Smith had more golf balls than he could use, so he started donating more of them.
Smith was born and raised in Ogden. He went to Ogden High until his senior year when he went to newly opened Ben Lomond High for the 1953-54 school year.
He worked as a mechanical engineer for Sperry Corporation, which became Unisys after a 1986 merger. Other parts of the Sperry company became part of Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Univac, among others.
It was a great job, he said, even if the commute to Salt Lake City wore out some vehicles along the way. The job gave way to retirement, which has been filled with plenty of hunting and walks with Gabby.
The sun on this Tuesday morning starts to creep over Mt. Ogden and it’s time to head back to the parking lot. But the day’s not over yet. As any yellow lab does, Gabby loves to swim. And they’re going swimming next.
They’ll come back again soon and find more golf balls. Smith will clean them up and donate them.
Rest assured that, if one loses a golf ball, Smith and Gabby are nearby and the excited yellow lab will probably find the ball very quickly.