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Theft at golf courses / golf clubs on the Costa del Sol in Spain

Sadly, there has been an increase in theft of golfers possessions in Spain - mainly with the economic downturn starting in 2008. But if you take simple precautions, you are much less likely as a golfer to be the victim of thieves while playing golf. This is opportunistic general theft, very rarely mugging. That is, the thief is unlikely to hold you up with a knife or gun. They want to steal valuable items that you carelessly leave unprotected.

As a frequent golfer down here on the Costa del Sol, I hear stories about theft from particular courses. But it is really unfair to mention those courses. Think of this as a general problem, not a problem on specific courses. All golf clubs on the Costa del Sol are fully aware of the problem. They know that news of one incidence of theft spreads fast – bitter golfers tell lots of other golfers about the course where they had their possessions stolen. Sensible golf clubs take steps to minimise the likelihood of theft. They have warning notices around the clubhouse, have lockers in the clubhouse where you can leave your valuables while you are out on the course etc. Raise the issue when you arrive at the club, and you should receive helpful advice from the staff working there. Clubs work closely with local police – who obviously want to prevent theft because it damages Spain's reputation as a golf holiday destination.

What gets stolen ? Where ?

The same as any theft of personal property. The thieves want things that they can convert easily, quickly and anonymously into cash. So theft of wallets and handbags – with cash and debit / credit cards – is first priority. Secondly, theft of small electronic items – mobile phones, PDAs, golf course mapping devices etc. Theft of items in the vicinity of the clubhouse - not actually while you are out playing golf - is relatively rare. If it happens, it is typically thieves breaking into cars (they smash windows, or even trap your remote car locking codes and unlock your car directly). I have heard of thieves stealing all golf items (whole golf bag, golf shoes etc.). But this is relatively unlikely for obvious reasons: running away with a whole golf bag is cumbersome, golf bags/clubs/shoes are more difficult to sell on, so are not worth very much.

It is much more typical for thieves to try to steal your belongings while you are actually out on the course, not in the vicinity of the clubhouse (where there are generally more people around). These thieves are not fools. They carefully pick particular holes on the course to operate on – in particular holes where you park your buggy next to the green, and they do the theft while you are busy on the green – probably with the buggy not in plain sight, and the thieves have some way to get to your buggy fast and search the buggy / golf bags before you have time to react.

How do the thieves operate out on the course ?

Time: Thieves want time (often a few seconds is enough) to search your buggy or golf cart for items to steal. They are expert at rifling through a golf bag. If you think you are safe by "hiding" your wallet at the bottom of one of your golf bag pockets, think again. They pick places carefully where you are as far away from your buggy as possible, and ideally where you can not see your buggy clearly. That gives them more time before you react. So they tend to operate around greens while you are preoccupied with putting.

Entry / Exit: Thieves want a fast way in to do the theft, then a fast way out once they have your valuables. This could, for example, be where a green is next to a road where the method of theft is: two thieves drive up in car, one climbs over the fence, rifles through your buggy, climbs back over the fence with your items, leaps in the car which the other thief then drives way fast. Or where the golf hole is next to a dry river bed or similar piece of waste ground. Same principle of theft, but this time they use dirt bikes or quad bikes rather than a car. Or where the green is surrounded by dense bush and steep ground. In which case the thief operates on foot, hides down behind bushes, commits the crime when you wander away from your buggy, then runs away fast along pre-planned escape route where it is difficult for you to chase.

What to do to prevent theft of your belongings ?

  1. Follow the advice the club gives you. Many have lockers where you can leave your valuables while you are out on the course. You might want to check the locker key is specific to your locker, not a cheap generic one that opens every locker they have. The club may also tell you about specific holes on the course where you need to be particularly careful.
  2. Never leave items in plain sight in your car – like on the seats. Put everything in the boot of the car. I personally do not worry about leaving golf equipment (bag, shoes..) in the boot of my car – provided the golf course car park itself looks reasonably secure and I am not parked in an area that looks poorly protected. I never ever leave valuables (wallet, phone..) in the car. Not even in the glove compartment or boot.
  3. Be aware of areas on the course where thieves prefer to operate. Areas where you park your buggy or golf cart then wander off some distance to play your golf. Areas where thieves can enter / exit: surrounded by bush, roads, rough ground or river beds – all typically at holes on the periphery (outer edge) of the golf course.
  4. Know what thieves are after. Top of the list is cash and near-cash (credit/debit cards, small electronic items). You might need a bit of cash while out on the course (10 Euros to buy some drinks from the touring refreshment buggy, for example). But that is no reason to take your whole wallet or handbag. Just take the 10 Euros cash you need in your pocket. Do not think you can properly "hide" anything of value in your golf bag itself. If you have your mobile phone switched off throughout the entire round (good golf manners !), then why bother to take the phone around the golf course at all. Rather leave it somewhere secure where a thief is much less likely to get to it.
  5. Never put too much distance between your valuables and yourself when out on the course. Park the buggy as close as possible next to each green while you are playing on that green. Keep your valuables in sight as much as possible. I personally put all my valuables in a small rucksack which I never leave on the buggy. I take it with me every time I wander away from the buggy and drop it next to me on the fairway or immediately next to the green while I play my shots.
  6. Be careful about confronting thieves or suspected thieves. For example, many golf courses have people trying to sell you used golf balls on the course or close by e.g. through a fence next to particular tee boxes. Those people in my view are not particularly likely to also steal from you. They are typically just really poor locals trying to make a small bit of income recycling your and my lost golf balls. So perhaps see that they do not wander close to your valuables, but there is no good reason to be really suspicious and aggressive towards them. In the event that you do confront a genuine thief, be careful. The Spanish police might be understanding if there is a bit of a scuffle or shouting, but will be much less forgiving if you beat a local Spanish guy over the head with your putter and cause real injury. Also ask yourself if you are really up for a full-on fight. If you wave your putter then the cornered thief produces a knife, what will you really do next ? It is simply much better not to get into that situation at all.

What to do if the theft actually happens ?

Firstly, react fast. Time is of the essence. If the thief has gotten away with your cash, realistically there is nothing you can do about it. But debit/credit cards are a different matter. The thieves typically move very fast to 'cash' these items e.g. go straight to the nearest cash machine if you are stupid enough to write your pin number on the back of the card, go online on the Internet immediately to buy stuff using your stolen card details. You should assume all your stolen debit/credit cards are fatally compromised. Contact the card issuers ASAP using their stolen card telephone hotlines, so they can cancel the cards and stop fraudulent transactions. Same thing with stolen electronic devices with SIM cards or other payment credits. Know who to contact to report the theft and if you can get the device deactivated. I have heard a few stories of golfers on the course who only discover they have been the victim of theft when the card issuer calls them up on the course on their mobile phone to query suspicious transactions. In other words, the thieves are already trying to 'cash' the stolen card information before the victim of theft has even completed his/her round of golf !.

Secondly, cooperate fully with local people. Sure you may be angry that you are a victim of theft, but it is not the fault of the people who own and run the club. Calm down and be reasonable with them. They will help you report the theft to the local Spanish police and take your contact information for further follow-up.

Summary

Theft on and around golf courses on the Costa del Sol is still quite rare. All local people involved in golf are very keen to ensure theft does not happen to any golfer using their club/course. If you are sensible and reasonably careful with your valuables, you make it much less likely you will be the victim of what is still mostly non-violent, opportunistic, casual crime. You could do a simple plan ahead for theft (from a golf course or elsewhere). For example, I regularly send myself an email with a simple list of key numbers (card numbers, my payment account numbers..) and emergency contact numbers. If theft happens, I am not stuck – I just need the use of any computer with Webmail access to get to that email I filed previously. That way I should minimise the loss as a result of the theft.




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