Back in business: Florida golf courses offer relief, get back on track after Irma

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Back in business: Florida golf courses offer relief, get back on track after Irma

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Back in business: Florida golf courses offer relief, get back on track after Irma

All 175 hotel rooms at Mission Inn Resort & Club were occupied, a good number of them by energy company employees who were in central Florida to work in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

The ballroom was occupied as well, transformed into a makeshift shelter for nearly 200 senior citizens forced to evacuate their assisted living facility in St. Petersburg for the resort about 40 miles northwest of Orlando.

“We had a full house,” said Mission Inn sales and marketing director Drew Toth.

One of the largest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, Irma battered the state of Florida on Sept. 10-11 and caused widespread property damage and power outages.

Intense preparations were made and evacuations ordered in the days before the storm arrived in Florida, as various golf properties hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.

Innisbrook Resort managing director Michael Williams described a detailed hurricane-preparedness strategy, which the team re-examines each May and was put into place prior to Irma’s arrival.

“When it became apparent that we were in harm’s way, we started executing this thing,” Williams said. “Fortunately, we were able to do a lot of pruning and trimming of dead limbs. … I felt like the resort was very well-prepared from a golf course standpoint. We removed all the trash cans, all the tree markers, all the directional signage. Anything that could become a projectile and do damage or hurt someone.”

Innisbrook, which annually plays host to the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship at its Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla., had more than 250 downed trees on property after Irma hit. Not one of them landed on a green or tee box at any of Innisbrook’s four courses.

Despite some flooding due to approximately 7.5 inches of rain, Innisbrook opened 18 holes late in the week after Irma’s arrival using modified routing with the front nine of its South Course and the back nine of its Island Course. Copperhead opened last week, and the North Course already was closed due to a greens replacement. It remains on track for an Oct. 12 opening.

“We were so fortunate,” said Williams, who was on the course when they re-opened to greet and thank players. “We are in very excellent shape.”

In Naples, Fla., much of the community and the clubhouse at Fiddler’s Creek was without power for nearly a week.  But the clubhouse had gas grills and plenty of food in the fridge, and the team provided lunch for residents and workers for several days.

“I said, ‘Let’s cook some hamburgers and hot dogs,’ ” general manager Ron Albeit said. “We let the whole community know we were going to have a lunch. Residents didn’t have power, they had no water and we said, ‘Come get a bottle of water and a hamburger or hot dog,’ and they were so thankful.”

The golf course was littered with debris in the immediate aftermath, but Albeit’s priority was clearing the roads so residents could drive out. The golf course maintenance team used its equipment to clear a path before turning its attention to the course, which suffered minimal damage but will require significant clean-up. Fiddler’s Creek expects to open for play next month.

Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Fla., opened its Conservatory course Sep. 14. The resort also played host to more than 50 employees and their families who didn’t feel safe in their homes during the storm, and worked with sister properties Reunion Resort and Innisbrook to offer discounted rates for guests and members who wished to evacuate.

The Ocean Course at Hammock Beach has been closed since last year due to damage from Hurricane Matthew, at which point a decision was made to conduct a thorough restoration and re-grass the course with salt-tolerant platinum paspalum. Damage from Irma was limited, and the Ocean Course remains on schedule to open this fall.

“After Matthew we decided we wanted to re-open true to our original Jack Nicklaus signature design,” public relations manager Christine Corson said. “Instead of slapping a Band-Aid on it, which we easily could have done we opted for a full restoration, which included reinforcing the course with the highest quality, and most saltwater tolerant grass around.”

Reunion Resort near Orlando fared very well with only minimal debris around the property. The golf courses were re-opened after just one day of clean up.

Streamsong Resort in Bowling Green, Fla., also issued positive reports. The property, located about 45 miles southeast of Tampa, was “fully operational,” according to a statement on its website. The Blue and Red courses are both open for play. The new Black course remains on schedule for a Sept. 29 public opening.

TPC Sawgrass, located in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., about 25 miles southeast of Jacksonville, had roughly 200 trees down on property and “was impacted by the storm,” according to a statement on its Twitter page. The Players Stadium Course is set to re-open Friday and the Dye’s Valley course re-opened last week.

“We will provide a full assessment and updates as we progress, including tentative re-opening dates as they become available,” the statement said. “Tournament officials are optimistic that there will be no major impact for the Players Championship in 2018.”

Farther south along the state’s east coast, Sailfish Point Golf Club in Stuart was in an evacuation zone and closed its gates two days before Irma arrived. The property saw winds as high as 92 mph during the storm but only lost power for about 24 hours. Director of golf Vic Tortorici said he had to take a ferry to work for five months back in 2004, when the only road into the island property collapsed during Hurricane Jeanne. The road remained intact this time, and the course was opened for play after a few days despite significant browning from salt spray. The South Florida PGA Section Championship tournament, originally scheduled for Oct. 3-5 at Sailfish Point and McArthur Golf Club, was pushed back to Oct. 10-12.

“We really dodged a major bullet here, for sure,” Tortorici said.

The El Campeon and Las Colinas courses at Mission Inn near Orlando are both open and suffered minimal damage, Toth said. Debris was quickly cleared early in the week, and the property had just a short power outage. It hosted many energy employees due to its central location in the state, and several were still staying at the hotel last week as they continued to restore utilities in surrounding areas.

The assisted living residents returned to their homes in St. Petersburg after four nights at Mission Inn. The hotel provided three meals a day while they were on property, and just recently returned to normal operations with weddings, corporate meetings and tournaments on the horizon.

“We were lucky,” Toth said. “Just a lot of trees down that we took care of immediately and one power outage during the weekend, but other than that not much. We were lucky that way.”

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