When Jake Adams teed up a golf ball in April and drove it 280 yards into Yellowstone National Park, he didn’t expect to land in the sights of the law.
Now, “they’re building a federal case against me,” he said.
It all started, as so many bad ideas do, out of boredom. Last year, on a freezing spring day in Barnstable, Mass., on Cape Cod, Mr. Adams started to drive golf balls into Wequaquet Lake. Every day for 30 days he hit one into the lake.
On the last day, he plunged into the frigid water himself, fully clothed, a move he filmed and posted online. It was just a dumb challenge he gave himself, said Mr. Adams, 29, a professional comedian and avid golfer. But now he wanted to do something bigger to attract more attention.
This February, on a cross-country trip, Mr. Adams pulled off State Highway 89 outside Holly, Colo., near the Kansas line, and smacked a golf ball into the eastern plains. It just looked so cool, he said. That was when he decided to hit a golf ball in every state in 30 days and post his adventures on social media. More likes and followers could possibly translate to more attention for his comedy, he thought.
“I’ve always been really entertained by something that’s just dumb enough to be watchable,” Mr. Adams said.
He started in California, teeing up a drive toward the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park in Los Angeles. “It seems like this is going to be a poor life choice,” Mr. Adams said in his Instagram post. No one disagreed.
He continued to post videos of his tee shots on social media as he made his way across the country, being careful, he said, to use biodegradable golf balls, and driving his 2012 forest green Subaru Outback up to 12 hours a day to keep on schedule.
He mostly used his driver, but at the West Virginia University football stadium in Morgantown he tried to hit a field goal from the 50-yard line and used a sand wedge. He missed wide left.
He used his putter on the basketball court at Xavier University in Cincinnati. In Rhode Island, he had to hit a wedge to get it up over a railing along the Providence River.
“Ended up just shanking that one,” he said.
He hit a ball out into an Oklahoma prairie, as state troopers, who had stopped to see what was up, looked on. He hit drives from a snowboard off a tiny tee of snow on Lizard Head Pass in Colorado, and off a beach in Biloxi, Miss. Mr. Adams chipped a ball outside the front gates to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia during the Masters.
“This is as close as I’ll get,” he said.
In Maine, he ran into trouble finding an early-morning lobster roll to tee off on. Most restaurants didn’t open until 11. He got through to one and said money was no object, telling them, “If you have lobster, please just make this happen.” They charged him $30 for a sandwich.
In Boise, Idaho, Mr. Adams had access to a minor league hockey rink, where he fired away balls at a friend tending goal. A lifelong hockey player, Mr. Adams did fine on skates, but “obviously, I can’t take a full swing,” he said. “You can only turn a little bit.”
In Des Moines, he took aim at the Iowa Capitol from its front lawn, watched by a state trooper who looked on with his arms crossed.
Mr. Adams said the trooper was the father of one of his Instagram followers, who suggested involving him. Mr. Adams scripted that video, asking the trooper to come up and ask him what he was doing.
He needed several takes because the trooper kept calling him “dude,” Mr. Adams said. “I turned into a bit of a director because I had to tell him state troopers don’t normally say ‘dude.’ ”
In several states, Mr. Adams went into a national park and hit a golf shot there before continuing his travels, he said.
On day 25, he arrived in Wyoming in the afternoon and drove into Yellowstone National Park, passing elk and bison. He parked, pulled a wedge from his bag and whacked two golf balls before taking out his secondhand Callaway Epic Speed driver and hitting a third ball.
“I didn’t want to leave a divot in a national park, so I used my little golf mat,” he said. “I thought I was taking all the precautions, using biodegradable golf balls. I didn’t really think twice about it.”
Mr. Adams was nearing the end of his tour, on his way to Alaska and then on to a finish in Hawaii, when negative comments started flooding in on Instagram. People were furious and said he had desecrated protected park land.
“I hope you rot in jail,” read one comment.
“This is why no one likes golfers,” someone else wrote.
Mr. Adams finished in Hawaii on April 30. That same day, Yellowstone released a statement.
“The individual who recently was captured on video hitting golf balls in Yellowstone National Park showed a lack of judgment and common sense,” it read. “He violated regulations designed to preserve Yellowstone and protect the experience of other visitors. The National Park Service is investigating this illegal act.”
Mr. Adams was driving through Sacramento, Calif., four days later when his phone rang with a Wyoming number. A Yellowstone National Park investigator told him a case had been opened and he was being actively investigated, Mr. Adams said. He said she told him he could face up to six months in prison and $5,000 in fines.
Mr. Adams pulled over to collect himself. “I could feel my chest….It just kept building. I’ve never felt that type of anxiety,” he said.
A National Park Service spokeswoman, Cynthia Hernandez, said, “Visitors who violate park rules and regulations are subject to fines and/or imprisonment. NPS law enforcement at several national parks, including Yellowstone National Park, are investigating this activity.”
Damaging or defacing national parks’ property is prohibited, and vandalism of the parks is a federal misdemeanor, according to the Code of Federal Regulations. Asked if hitting golf balls in Yellowstone violates park regulations, Ms. Hernandez said, “In this case, yes.”
Ms. Hernandez said the investigation “is still ongoing.”
In the past, people scribbled graffiti on rock faces in Mesa Verde in Colorado, spray-painted a rock monument in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and chopped up a cactus in Arizona’s Saguaro National Park. Most recently, someone mounted a stainless steel obelisk in Utah’s Bear’s Ears National Monument.
The vandals in those cases were unknown, but in 2016, a New Zealand man was fined $8,000 for trespassing in a thermal area in Yellowstone after posting a video of it online. The same year, a woman from New York was given two years probation and 200 hours of community service for painting graffiti on rock formations in seven national parks.
Mr. Adams said what he did was out of ignorance, and he didn’t intend to cause damage. Now, as he awaits the outcome of the federal investigation, he said he worries that followers on social media might copy him. He posted a statement urging them not to.
He has lawyered up, paying a $2,500 retainer. “This turned out to be the most expensive golf outing ever,” Mr. Adams said.
He said he regrets his actions but doesn’t plan to stop hitting golf balls in other places. Next year, he is taking his act to Europe, to hit one in every country in 30 days.
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