Northern California golf courses battle back after wildfires

AFP/Getty Images/JOSH EDELSON

Northern California golf courses battle back after wildfires

Courses

Northern California golf courses battle back after wildfires

The Atlas fire started around 9:20 p.m. PT Oct. 8, roughly three hours after Brendan Steele finished two shots ahead of Tony Finau to win the Safeway Open at 15 under at Silverado Resort’s North Course.

By morning, the fire had burned an estimated 25,000 acres amid the beautiful homes, wineries and ranches in Northern California’s Napa Valley region.

Most of the 15,000 fans in attendance for the PGA Tour event were long gone, and those staying on Silverado’s 370-room property were able to leave safely.

“The fact that there were no deaths at Silverado, all the people got out, it really is nothing short of a miracle,” Silverado vice president of marketing Julie Maurer said. “If that (fire) had broken out earlier, it might not have had the same outcome.”

Multiple fires that began that night claimed 42 lives and thousands of homes and were still not 100 percent contained as of last week, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

CNN’s Breaking News Twitter account posted a photo of the blaze at Silverado the day after the Safeway Open, and the dramatic image appeared to show an entire grandstand area engulfed in flames.

It was actually a corporate skybox off the 17th green, ignited by embers from the Atlas fire and fortunately contained to one small area. Embers in the air caused small fires throughout the property, including several around the North Course, which had recently been spread with mulch in various spots for the tournament. Mulch is flammable, and a resort staff with little-to-no firefighting experience stood guard throughout the night trying to contain the flames.

“Our director of security, our resort manager and our general manager were there with two other employees all night long on vigilance,” Maurer said.

The back nine on the North Course did sustain turf damage and the driving range remains closed because several telephone poles which hold up the netting alongside the range sustained fire damage and remain a safety concern.

Most of Silverado Resort was spared. The resort re-opened last week and is now fully operational, with the South Course, grill restaurant, fitness center and spa back up and running. Repairs are still ongoing at the North Course, but it is expected to be open for play again by the end of the month.

“Things are going remarkably well,” Maurer said. “The resort itself sustained very little damage. … It was mostly smoke damage. We do have some turf damage on the North Course, but none of our permanent structures caught fire.”

Roughly 45 miles northwest of Silverado, Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa was preparing to host the UCSF Medical Center Celebrity Golf Classic on Oct. 9, the day after the final round of the Safeway Open.

According to USA Today, several former Major League Baseball players, including Barry Bonds, Bret Saberhagen and Eric Gagne, were among those forced to leave the club early Monday morning.

“It was a crazy, surreal night,” Saberhagen told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I was out on the balcony at Mayacama when the power went out and sat down and saw the moon come up. It was very nice. And then I saw the moon turn orange and it started getting lighter and lighter. I saw the fire coming over the ridge and I could hear propane and gas tanks popping.”

Mayacama sustained significant fire damage and while the clubhouse was spared, the Jack Nicklaus Signature designed-course was burnt throughout and the maintenance facility was “severely damaged,” according to a report from the Golf Course Superintendents of America. The clubhouse and maintenance facility at Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa burned to the ground and the course was devastated, according to the same report. 

(Note: This story appears in the Oct. 30, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

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