Storms batter courses from south to north
“Didn’t there used to be a bunker there?”
Golf course architect Brian Silva knows The Quechee (Vt.) Club extremely well. He’s been working there on and off for 15 years, and just rebuilt nine greens on the Highland Course last fall. But as he surveyed by foot the storm-ravaged 36-hole facility during the Labor Day weekend, he found himself continually asking superintendent Ken Lallier about features of the layout that literally had disappeared. Even after five days of cleanup, there was silt everywhere, bridges ripped out, irrigation pipe protruding and huge gashes in what had been putting greens, fairways and tees.
Silva described the damage as “the worst I have seen in my 30 years as an architect. And we’re just talking about the golf course. What happened to parts of the state and to whole towns was far worse.”
With Hurricane Irene making landfall the previous weekend, Aug. 27-28, golf courses along the Eastern Seaboard from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to Cape Cod, Mass., prepared for the combined fury of relentless winds, heavy rains and tidal surges. By Sunday, as the storm approached New England, Irene had been downgraded to a tropical storm. But rains continued to lash inland areas, with some of the worst reserved for Vermont, where 15 inches fell in the eastern and southern parts of the state, sending streams over their banks.
At least 45 deaths in 13 states have been attributed to the storm, and early estimates of the financial toll are in the tens of billions of dollars.
The storm canceled the fourth round of The Barclays, the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoff opener at Plainfield (N.J.) Country Club. It turned out to be the right call, because the day after Dustin Johnson won the 54-hole event, the par-5 16th fairway was under 4 feet of water.
In North Carolina, damage was dependent upon which side of hurricane’s eye the golf course sat on. Irene’s counterclockwise rotation left properties on the storm’s east side with marginally less damage. That’s what largely spared the Currituck Club in Corolla, N.C., along the Outer Banks. There, damage was limited to four big trees that fell on cart paths, along with extensive debris on the holes fronting Currituck Sound. After 2 1/2 days of cleanup, the course was back in business.
Irene’s eye passed over Nags Head (N.C.) Golf Club, which incurred enough saltwater damage to greens and fairways that it likely will be another week before the course reopens.
The Country Club of Fairfield (Conn.) is among the most exposed courses in New England to tidal surges. Saltwater from Long Island Sound and an adjoining inlet laps the course on three sides. After Irene, up to 8 feet of saltwater covered parts of the course. Though much of the water had receded a week later, the club remained closed as the maintenance crew dealt with the effects of damage to turfgrass.
At least the club was reachable by phone. In Vermont, the famed old Woodstock Inn and Resort had no phone service and was closed because of flood damage. At Quechee, Lallier and his crew went to work right away clearing off a combination of sand, cobblestone and slimy muck that coated 80 percent of the Lakeland Course and obliterated nearly every bunker. The Highland Course lost two greens but at least could open a nine-hole loop by the weekend. The wonder is that with all the recovery going on statewide, there were still folks with enough free time to play.
Elsewhere, more turbulent weather was brewing, with Tropical Storm Lee bearing down on the northern Gulf Coast over the weekend and forcing course closures from TPC Louisiana in Avondale to Fallen Oak Golf Course in Saucier, Miss. At The Preserve Golf Club in Vancleave, Miss., just east of Biloxi, a pro shop staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed pride in the exceptional drainage that kept his course open amid torrential rain.
“We’re open,” he told Golfweek, “but the place is empty.”