Publish date:

A Good Home Spoiled

EVICTED From Palmetto Golf Course in Miami, Kenny Bethel, a
homeless man who claims to have lived on the grounds for more
than 35 years. Bethel, 55, walked the public course by day,
collecting lost golf balls and reselling them to players near the
7th green for $20 a bag, sometimes earning $100 a day; by night,
he and his wife, Francis, 43, slept near or in a restroom off the
13th hole. Golfers and course workers had cultivated a soft spot
for him--workers left the bathroom and showers open at night
expressly for him and Francis. But recent complaints from area
homeowners and from female players anxious about using the
bathroom while Bethel was nearby led course officials to run him
off, though Bethel has not been accused of doing anything
threatening or harmful to the course or players.

"There's been additional heat," says Carlos McKeon, manager of
golf operations for Miami-Dade County, "and we're not interested
in establishing the precedent of allowing a domicile on public
property." Responding to the outpouring of public sympathy that
Bethel's story has generated, McKeon said Bethel has not lived on
the course for more than 10 years (though several golfers say
they remember him being there at least as early as 1970) and
noted that he has turned down offers to work as a course
maintenance man. "Kenny's a bright guy," McKeon says, "but he
doesn't see the point of working within society. This is a
lifestyle choice for him." Bethel, who says he came to Palmetto
at 15 after running away from home in nearby Richmond Heights,
says he is not physically able to perform the maintenance work
and makes more money selling balls anyway.

Last week the Bethels relocated to live under a neighborhood
bridge, but they hope they'll be able to return to the course. "I
don't have a problem with no one," Bethel says. "These people
that play out here, they are my family. I just about know every
one of them. This is my home, and I don't plan on leaving it."

--Daniel G. Habib

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SMITH/CORBIS-OUTLINE (BETHEL) HOME TURF Bethel says he'd lived on the Palmetto course since the 1960s.