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The annual blues festival in Eureka Springs has been a tradition in that Ozarks resort town of 1,900 in northwest Arkansas since 1988, when Rich Jones, a guitarist who lives there, hatched the idea. The 2001 festival was held last weekend, and on Saturday night, midway through a lackluster set by the Jones Brothers (no relation) Band, Rich climbed onto the stage in Basin Park. Wearing a hat inscribed with 2001 U.S. OPEN SOUTHERN HILLS and playing a Samick guitar he had borrowed from one of the other musicians, Jones launched into a searing rendition of a blues tune called You Can't Scandalize My Name. "The song's fitting," Jones said after he had finished. "I play it everywhere."
The 38-year-old Jones's name was most recently scandalized in Tulsa, only 149 miles west of Eureka Springs, where there has been a warrant out for his arrest for 20 months. On Sept. 30, 1999, he was charged in absentia with a felony, malicious injury to property. Tulsa police believe that Jones is the vandal who 97 days earlier had destroyed 12 greens at Southern Hills Country Club, site of next week's U.S. Open, by spraying acid on them in what's believed to be the largest act of vandalism to a major golf championship venue in history. Jones, who had worked on the grounds crew at Southern Hills, left Oklahoma after the crime, and as recently as last week Tulsa authorities said they did not know his whereabouts. But last Saturday, during an interview with SI at a Eureka Springs bar, he denied any wrongdoing and said one of his dreams "was to set cups at the U.S. Open. Man, I miss that place. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about it."
They think about Jones every day at Southern Hills, too, because of the promise he allegedly burned into one of the greens in four-foot-high letters. "Who's to say he's not going to come back here and do it again?" says Nick Sidorakis, the club's general manager. "Who's to say we don't have a nut out there who says, 'Look at the kind of [attention] I can get.' That's what we've been worried about."
On the morning of June 26,1999, a Saturday and the final day of Swingaroo, Southern Hills's annual member-guest tournament and a highlight of the season, Sidorakis drove through the club's front gate at 6:30. Before he reached the English-country-manor clubhouse, John Szklinski, the course superintendent, waved him to a stop. Szklinski took him to the 4th green, almost directly below the clubhouse, on which this message had been sprayed: F- - - YOU NICK AND JOHN! BE BACK FOR OPEN 2001. Szklinski informed Sidorakis that the 4th green was not the only one that had been vandalized. Swastikas had been burned on numerous greens and tees on the Championship course as well as on the West nine (Southern Hills has 27 holes). All told, 12 greens—eight on the Championship 18, four on the West course—and three tee boxes had been hit.
At first, no one knew what chemical had been sprayed on the greens and tees, but "you could see the damage in the dew pattern," says Todd Towery, one of Szklinski's two assistants. It wasn't long before it became clear that the perpetrator had used some sort of acid. "By 10:30," Towery says, "the grass had gone into total meltdown."
Jones became the prime suspect two days later. He had made no secret of his dislike of Sidorakis and Szklinski, the boss who had pushed Jones and the rest of the staff hard since having been hired by Sidorakis seven months earlier. While no one at Southern Hills will speak ill of the previous super, Bob Randquist, the club decided that Randquist had let the course's slip show, and with the Open, awarded in 1996, on the horizon, that wouldn't do. From the start Szklinski expected more effort from the holdovers from Randquist's staff. "I figured he'd have some issues," says Kevin Hicks, a former assistant to Szklinski and now the superintendent at Hillcrest Country Club in Boise, Idaho. "Nobody is more demanding than John. He would say to me, 'Hey, these guys don't do what I want them to do.' "
Szklinski tried to get the crew's attention by eliminating the 15-minute breaks Randquist had sanctioned every morning and afternoon. That angered Jones. "John came in with all the guns blasting," Jones said last week. "[Nick and John] made a point to disrespect people and make our lives miserable." Jones said Sidorakis and Szklinski both called him "a basket case and an airhead," although Jones admitted that he once drove a golf cart so fast that when he made a turn, a coworker who was riding with him flew out of the passenger seat and broke her leg.
Szklinski also hired a number of His-panics, which upset Jones, according to a coworker. "Some people felt as if they didn't need to lay sod because we were bringing in a Hispanic staff [to do that]," Towery says. Jones says he's not a "racist or a skinhead." Another member of the grounds crew told Tulsa police that Jones had made threatening remarks about Sidorakis and Szklinski before June 26. "They're going to get theirs," Jones allegedly said.
Jones usually had Saturdays off, but Szklinski scheduled him to work on the 26th, the final day of Swingaroo. According To The Police Report, On June 25 Szklinski Had Rep-Rimanded Jones For Not Doing His Work Properly. That Night Jones Told Another Member Of The Crew He Wouldn't Show Up For Work The Next Day. However, Jones Did Show Up. In Fact, To Save Money, He Had Been Sleeping On Club Grounds, In The Cab Of One Of The Maintenance Trucks, For A Couple Of Weeks, Which Police Say Shows He Had The Opportunity To Commit The Crime. Jones Says Szklinski And Several Coworkers Knew He Was Sleeping In The Truck. Sidorakis And Szklinski Say They Wouldn't Have Allowed Jones To Live On The Property Had Diey Known.
Jones Says He Went To Sleep On June 25 At 10 P.m. And, Upon Arising The Next Morning, Began To Set Up The Back Nine, As He Had Been Instructed To Do. The Only Damage He Saw Was A Swastika Burned Into Die 9th Tee. "who Could Write In The Dark?" He Says. "I Don't Even Know How To Spell Swastika."