According to Moody’s Analytics, the damage done by Hurricane Irma to the state of Florida when it tore through the state in early September could total as much as $100 billion. Included in the cleanup will be repairs to dozens of golf courses affected by the high winds and torrential rainfall. The havoc was particularly strong along the west coast of the Sunshine State, the sound of hope and determination to come back strong was evident pretty much wherever we looked and from everyone we talked to.
Yes, Floridians are saying, Hurricane Irma was extremely destructive, but we’re working hard to get back in shape, and will reopen soon—if we haven’t already.
Category 4 Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys on the morning of September 10 and then moved steadily north-northwest, passing over Naples in mid-to-late afternoon. By then the storm had weakened to a Category 2, but that still meant courses in the area had to withstand winds of between 96 and 110 mph.
Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club—where the course had received a $9 million upgrade in 2016 led by Jack Nicklaus and John Sanford—certainly didn’t get off lightly, but General Manager John Parsons says it could have been a lot worse. “It’s a mess, but it’s a largely superficial mess,” Parsons told the Naples Daily News on September 15. “We’re lucky we’re not under water. This is ugly, but this is ugliness that’s repaired in one season.”
In fact, it took just three weeks, as the 6,929-yard course reopened on October 1, a week after the 319-room resort. “It wasn’t easy as there was a lot of cleanup of limb and foliage debris to be done,” Parsons continues. “But guests are pleased the resort and golf course are looking good again. While we still have some trees that are leaning heavily and which we are trying to stand up, we’re very thankful the course has come through in terrific shape.”
The resort’s golf and grounds superintendent, Holden Jones, led the effort to get the course playable again. “Prior to Irma’s arrival, we moved anything off the course and range that would be a danger in high winds,” he says. “We also secured the maintenance facility. This proved to be very helpful. The course itself was largely unscathed, and we’re fortunate to have an excellent team on the golf course and a much larger team working around the entire hotel.”
It was much the same story at Tiburón, nine miles northeast of Naples Beach, where the Gold Course reopened, amazingly, on September 19, making it one of the first in the area to come back. “All things considered, we were very fortunate,” reports Director of Golf Chad Nigro. “We did suffer damage, including downed trees, flooding, missing roof tiles, etc., but were able to open a week or so after the hurricane passed. The course is in amazing condition considering. Director of Agronomy Jeff Cathey and his team did an incredible job.”
Cathey removed 10 trees prior to Hurricane Irma’s arrival to limit potential damage. “They already had a slight lean,” he says, “and we didn’t want them ending up on any of the greens. We also removed everything that wasn’t attached to the ground—trash cans, flags, etc. And we secured our irrigation satellites (remote irrigation-control centers) with heavy-duty duct tape, which surprisingly held up great.”
The work is far from done, though. Cathey’s crew still has about 1,000 trees to remove and another 500 that need pruning. “The intense rainfall also damaged the reveted bunker faces,” says Cathey, “and caused numerous washouts along lake banks.”
Elsewhere in Florida, the damage was thankfully less extensive. Miami and the Palm Beaches certainly encountered strong winds and heavy rain, but the major resorts came through mostly unharmed. Trump Doral stayed open throughout the storm and its golf courses survived largely intact. Three of the four are now open with only the Silver Fox still closed. PGA National’s courses, led by the Champion which hosts the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic, fared even better shutting down for just a couple of days. And both the Valley and Stadium Courses at TPC Sawgrass suffered only minor cosmetic damage—certainly not enough to prevent the Players Championship from returning to the Stadium Course next year for the 37th time. The Valley Course reopened on September 21st, the Stadium a week later.
Also, thankfully unaffected was Streamsong Resort in Central Florida where the Red and Blue Courses were back open within a week, and where the opening of Gil Hanse’s much-anticipated Black Course went ahead as planned on September 29th.
Hurricane Irma wasn’t the only recent storm to hit golf-rich areas. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4, hit Houston, Texas, on August 25 with “extreme” winds over 130 mph causing widespread damage. The subsequent flooding—the result of Harvey stalling, weakening, and dumping more than three feet of water on the city and its environs—added to the devastation.
It took several days, even weeks, for the water to disappear at several Houston-area courses. The five layouts at ClubCorp-owned Kingwood, half an hour north of the city, were submerged for days and hundreds of trees were lost. “The bunkers were badly impacted as well, and silt was deposited throughout the property,” says Patty Jerde, the company’s communications manager.
But the Deerwood Course opened in less than two weeks, by mid-October 54 holes were playable (the Deerwood, Lake, and Forest courses). The Island and Marsh courses will be open by the time you read this. “The Kingwood staff plus additional construction crews have been working tirelessly on the golf courses,” Jerde reported in early October. “More than 11 acres of sod have been laid, and renovations are under way on all the greens. Bunker sand will be replaced.”
BlackHorse Golf Club in Cypress, Texas, 25 miles northwest of downtown Houston, reported similar woes, with both the North and South Courses inundated. “We had minimal tree loss thankfully, but each course sat under water for several days browning the turf,” says General Manager Mike Shoelen. “Bunkers were washed out and the sand badly contaminated, but our bunker liner had little to no damage and is in good condition.” The clubhouse, meanwhile, was 3–4 inches deep in water.
However, both courses are now back in play: The North reopened the weekend after Labor Day, the South at the end of September. The greens, says Shoelen, have rebounded very well and nearly all the tee boxes, fairways, and rough have grown back nicely. “We still have a few low-lying areas around drain basins and other areas that need new sod, but when the courses had been under that much water it’s really remarkable how good they look now.”
Like so many other GMs, Shoelen notes that his club got back on its feet so quickly thanks to a major team effort. “We used our entire staff, and every department pitched in. We outsourced our bunker and clubhouse renovation projects, but our staff here has done a magnificent job.”
The determination to rebound was matched at virtually every club we spoke to, one of which—Bear Creek, 20 miles west of downtown—still hadn’t reopened seven weeks after the event. Overwhelmed by 12 feet of flood water in April 2016, Bear Creek had a hard time dealing with the latest natural disaster; it was almost impossible to reach any of the facility’s staff. But in a simple yet harrowing text, the person in charge of the courses’ social media channel reported that both the Presidents and Challenger courses would remain closed for an “undetermined amount of time.”
“Damage from the flooding was extensive,” the text went on. “Thanks for checking in though. We’ll update you with progress on Facebook. But we’ll be back.”
It takes more than a little hurricane to take these courses down.