Ryan Chua, driving range ball shagger


Take a few drives at Ryan Chua’s shagger at Leader Golf Complex, 3060 El Centro Road.

No one shouts “fore” at a driving range—particularly if the ball shagger is out there. When Ryan Chua, part-owner-slash-ball-shagger at Leader Golf Complex in Natomas, revs up the tractor to go gather some balls, he’s an immediate target for the lineup of people armed with drivers. The shagger cart is makeshift, a mini tractor with a cage welded to the top and an unprotected side on its left that makes him even more tempting prey. Chua understands if you hit him or his tractor, though. It’s practically encouraged by the other targets, junked sedans placed on the range. “Who doesn’t want to hit a car with a golf ball?” he asks rhetorically.

Is it tough to get staff to do this job?

At first, it’s the opposite. Whoever starts working here wants to go out. After a while, it gets old and you get the balls hitting you. When the balls hit the metal cages you think you’re safe, but there’s actually shards of metal that will give you a splinter in the back of the neck or the arm. You’re not really as safe as you think you are. There are times where we’ve actually run out of gas on the back of the range. You can’t really tell people to stop. So you’re out there and you’re dodging golf balls, literally.

What’s one of the worst-case scenarios being out on the range?

I remember two winters ago it had just rained. When it breaks, this place gets packed. We were out picking up balls and I started to notice there weren’t many balls out. I looked in the ground and you could see the balls were actually sinking. They sink after heavy rain. I stopped for a second and then the cart started to sink. After spinning the wheels and getting it dug in even more, I couldn’t get out. We were literally a full house, so I’m dodging balls left and right to get back to the office.

Have you been hit?

I was hit in the leg, right near my crotch, like, right on my inner thigh. The crazy part is that I was in the cart when it happened. Balls will find their way through the cracks. It will take a bounce and come up underneath the bottom. One of our guys, Luciano, was wearing a hard hat and good thing he was. He got hit on the top of the head with a golf ball. It didn’t hurt too bad and he was OK, but he said it rang him pretty good.

Is it meditative, in a way?

Yeah, because it’s repetitive. You’re going up and down lines. You have to be as efficient as possible so that you’re not using too much gas. So you’re going line to line to line. It’s kind of like mowing the grass. It’s somewhat meditative, but it’s easily broken. As soon as your golf cart goes out, you’re automatically a target. Immediately. If I were to drive this cart out there at least six or seven of the guys are aiming for me. It’s just fun to do. We actually contemplated putting a target on the side of this, just to let people know, “Hey, go ahead.”

Does the sound of a golf swing make you tense up?

Immediately after, but you lose it after a while. Every time I come across this line (points to area nearest the tees), I’ve always got my head down, tucked in and just bracing for impact. Those are the ones that don’t sound too pleasant when it hits the cage. It’s a hazardous sport, I guess you could say.

Any name for your tractor?

No. We could, though. It’s a pretty beat-up machine. It kind of looks like Mater from Cars. This would be our Mater.

Has this job changed your perspective about golf?

It hasn’t ruined it for me. But you don’t realize how dangerous it actually is on a golf course. You don’t realize how fast those balls are actually coming at you unless you’ve actually been hit. Whenever I hear “fore,” I’m always the first to duck or dive down. It’s like a war scene. I hit the ground and I’m covering my head. When you’re in this car and you feel and hear the impact, you really feel the force of the ball. I’m kind of amazed at how fast it’s actually traveling. Depending on when it hits you, the ball travels up to 100 miles per hour. You have to imagine if you’re close it’s hitting you at a 100 miles per hour. Even if you’re in the very back and the drive is on the decrease, that ball is still traveling 70 to 80 miles per hour. These balls are coming in hot.

What goes through your mind out there?

It’s actually kind of peaceful until you get the occasional ting. Other than that, you’re out there alone and you’re just doing your thing. I think a lot about—fishing. (Laughs.) I have no idea why, but I’m always thinking about fishing.