Flying high: Marbles — a mix of border collie, Jack Russell terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and whippet — competes in the canine sport known as “air retrieve.” Photos courtesy of Bob Atol
When Bob Atol was first asked whether he wanted to take his dog, Marbles, to try out the sport of dock diving, he was skeptical.
“Just a year and a half ago, one of my teammates said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go try out dock diving. Do you want to come?’” Atol recalls. “I thought, ‘Marbles doesn’t even like water. But we’ll go and check it out.’ We ended up going and taking a class, and she actually took to it.”
Talk about an understatement.
Less than two years into her new sport, Marbles has set and reset the world record three times in one category and is tied for the world record in another. She seems to have taken to the sport like a dog to water.
“She took her first class in February 2019 and did her first competition in March 2019,” says Atol, assistant superintendent at Braemar Golf Course in Edina, Minn., and a 36-year GCSAA member. “That was a fairly quick turnaround. For her to be where she’s at in that short period of time is phenomenal.”
What is dock diving?
Dock diving is one of several canine sports recognized by the American Kennel Club, like agility, herding and disc sports. According to the AKC, the sport, in which dogs jump off a dock into a body of water either for height or distance, debuted officially in an exhibition in 1997. The sport has since had various iterations and overseeing organizations. The AKC and the organization North America Diving Dogs joined forces in 2014 to codify the sport, which NADD says is one of the fastest-growing canine sports.
NADD dock diving is split into three competitions: distance jumping, air retrieve and hydro dash. In distance jumping, a dog jumps from dock to water in pursuit of a toy thrown just out of reach. In air retrieve, the pooch leaps to grab a “bumper” hung 4 feet above the water’s surface and gradually moved farther away from the dock after each successful jump. In hydro dash, the dog must leap from the dock, swim to a toy on the far end of the pool, then return to the dock.
Watch Marbles tie the air retrieve world record in 2020:
NADD offers two general divisions — “open,” for dogs of any size; and “lap,” for dogs that measure less than 16 inches from the withers, or the ridge between the shoulder blades — and five classes, from novice to elite, within each division.
Marbles holds the distance jump world record in the lap division, which she has set three times. She set the current record — 27 feet, 6 inches — on Sept. 12. She also shares the lap-division air retrieve world record of 19 feet with two other dogs.
She was lap elite champion at the 2019 NADD Nationals and finished the 2020 season as the top-ranked dog in lap elite distance average (25 feet, 7 inches) and lap elite air retrieve average (18 feet, 5 inches).
Mystic “Marbles” Mania is an 8-year-old mixed breed.
Atol, who has been at Braemar Golf Course for 26 years, had owned other dogs — rat terriers — and had competed with them in flyball, another AKC sport in which teams of dogs must race 51 feet across a series of four hurdles, retrieve a ball while performing a “swimmer’s turn” off a platform, and then return to the start over the same four hurdles.
Thirty-six-year GCSAA member Bob Atol with Marbles and some of Marbles’ many decorations.
Canadian kennel Mackie’s Diamonds contacted Atol just over eight years ago about a new litter of sports breed mixed dogs that, in a fortunate bit of serendipity, had arrived just about the time Atol was heading to compete in a flyball tournament in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“I arranged to meet with her (the breeder),” Atol recalls. “I took a look at the litter, and I was hooked.”
Marbles is a mix of border collie, Jack Russell terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and whippet. “Basically, you take different breeds and kind of pick out different traits for different sports,” Atol says. “In flyball, they coined the term ‘border blenders’ — just a mix of dogs thrown in the blender.”
Marbles, Atol’s first sports mixed breed, is also an accomplished flyballer. “She doesn’t care which (sport she competes in),” Atol says. “She just loves to run fast.”
Editor’s note: Meet more of the golf industry’s beloved and gifted canine companions in GCM’s dogs of turf coverage.
When she’s not training, Marbles accompanies Atol to work at Braemar Golf Course, although he hesitates to classify her as a “course dog.”
“Technically, yes and no,” he says. “She comes to work with me every day, and occasionally I take her out on the course. But she’s so fast, she doesn’t like to wait for the cart. She runs out and runs back, and I don’t want to risk running her over, so I don’t really take her on the course that much unless I’m walking.”
Atol thus describes Marbles as more of a shop dog. “She does keep the squirrels and chipmunks in check around here,” he says. “I actually keep her kenneled in the office. I see her — she’s ready to go outside right now.”
Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s managing editor.