PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — It’s become an iconic staple of the Honda Classic. A car appears to float on water near the 18th hole.
For more than 40 years, fans have offered up their own theories on how organizers get the nearly two-ton car so buoyant. Many of those theories are simply wrong.
John “JJ” Johnson grew up playing in the Everglades. He started floating cars at the Honda Classic when the “old union guy” retired.
“And I became the new guy 30 years ago,” laughed JJ who is a member of local union 775 based in Miami.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Honda Classic
“To have the same crew come back; a lot of pride and a lot of hard work and sweat over the years from this group, it’s special for all of us,” Andrew George, the executive director of the Honda Classic.
JJ’s tools of the trade are cement-filled tires, a crowbar and a sledgehammer.
No, JJ isn’t an old-timey mobster. He’s a full-on barefoot Florida man with a camouflage hat and nicotine-stained fingers.
“I hear the stories other people come up with and how it’s done,” JJ said. “You’ll hear people at restaurants and stuff like that, ‘I use cranes, helicopters, all kinds of stuff,'” JJ said.
“You hear the rumbling, ‘So, did this helicopter bring this in? Did they build it out in the water? Is that even a real car?'” George said.
Gary Klobukowski, who is the Honda Classic’s site supervisor, said one time people asked, “Are there ramps all the way out there?” as he pointed to the water in front of 18.
The job is not without risks.
“Yeah, every year there’s been an alligator every year I’ve done it,” JJ said nonchalantly.
“Our swimmer (JJ) is not really afraid of the alligators,” Klobukowski said. “He’s from Florida, so he’s used to it.”
WPTV jokingly questioned George on the safety of having JJ in the water.
“I’m not sure if you’re aware there are signs that say there’s alligators out there, and you have a man right behind us in the water,” WPTV reporter T.A. Walker said laughingly.
“Yeah, I did not sign off on liability forms,” George said in jest. “He’s been doing this for a long time, so he knows what he’s doing.”
And now JJ, and the Honda Classic are retiring together.
“It’s a bit emotional this year. [It is the] 42nd and last Honda Classic … to see this going out in the water,” George reflected.
“It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed it,” JJ reminisced. “The people I work for are nice, reasonable, generous people.”
“I was hoping it would last much longer, but those are decisions somebody else makes,” Klobukowski said softly.
So how do they make the car float on top of the water?
“We have a raft we put in the water, we load the vehicle on it, tie it down and then we tow it to his location with a boat,” Klobukowski said.
Tack on cement-filled tires weighs approximately 300 pounds each in order to make the raft disappear to the naked eye.
“Twenty-four tires, one by one, taking them out,” JJ said.
They fight the elements like wind as the car turned in the water until they got it into the perfect position for the television cameras. And the team hopes the professionals and the fans look but don’t touch.
“People swimming out there and leaving beer bottles on the vehicle,” laughed Kobukowski.
“When [the Honda Classic] was at Weston [Hills Golf & Country], it was a little close to the green, people were taking shots at it,” JJ boisterously laughed. “Some little boys never grow up.”
Those who attend the golf tournament can see the Honda Pilot floating out by the 18th hole through Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens