Hurricane Sandy leaves plenty of golf course devastation

By Jason SobelOctober 31, 2012, 9:27 pm

Let’s not mince words: This might be the least important Hurricane Sandy-related story you’ll read all week.

The devastation of the recent storm that ravaged the Eastern Seaboard is still being tallied, but already there are more than 50 reported fatalities, millions still without electricity and unprecedented property damage. Those are the blameless tragedies appropriately making headlines, coupled with the relief efforts to bring the region back to some semblance of normalcy.

Golf isn’t even an afterthought right now.

And yet, for such a golf-rich portion of the world, with so many world-class courses dotting the landscape from New England down through the metropolitan New York area and into the Mid-Atlantic states, we would be remiss to not also consider the damage to fairways and greens both famous and infamous suffering from the impact of nature’s assault.

As of Wednesday afternoon, those courses most affected remained untouched since the storm came barging through. Whether completely enveloped in water, smothered by fallen trees or even – as is the case with some seaside tracks – defenselessly sliding into the coast, they remain pictures of helplessness in the storm’s aftermath.

Staffers at courses in such places as Atlantic City and parts of Long Island are still struggling to get to the workplace, with downed power lines and blocked roads providing greater hazards than any course could ever contain. Those who have reached these destinations use the terms “war zone” and “pretty trashed” to describe their once pristine links, words which can sadden even the most neophyte agronomist.

“Yeah, this was a good one,” Craig Currier, the superintendent at Glen Oaks Club in Old Westbury, N.Y., said with an exasperated laugh to indicate his sarcasm. “I’m getting a tree count now, but it’s in the hundreds. Most of them are just uprooted. I mean, they’re just massive.”

“We basically lost the back third of the 15th tee,” reported John Genovesi, director of grounds at Maidstone Club in East Hampton, N.Y. “That was the most dramatic damage we experienced, but there was also a lot of salt damage; we’ll be applying a ton of gypsum and flushing the sodium out for the next few weeks.”

“We have no power and probably close to 150 trees are down or broken,” said Paul Ramina, the director of grounds at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J. “There’s a lot of carnage here, but we’re fine. We’re good, everybody’s fine.”

Such is the prevailing feeling from those within the industry who were most impacted by Hurricane Sandy. With so many people left without homes, their lives rearranged by Mother Nature, the prospect of making reparations to a golf course hardly takes on the life-or-death proportions of so many others in need.

In fact, those who lean toward optimism under such duress can even see the silver lining of this cloud-addled disaster.

“Sometimes a hurricane isn’t a bad thing for a golf course,” contended Jeff Bollig, senior director of communications for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. “It’s like Mother Nature’s chainsaw.”

That glass-half-full perspective doesn’t end there, either. Common sentiment is that if those who preside over courses in the Northeast could schedule a storm of this magnitude, this would be just about the ideal time for it to happen.

“It’s certainly better at the end of October than the end of August,” explained Jay Wick, the head professional at Old Sandwich Golf Club in Plymouth, Mass., which received minimal wind damage. “Irene was unbelievably devastating last year. When it comes to lost revenues, it’s certainly a lot better at the end of October than any other time in the season. If there is a good time to lose your golf course for an extended period of time, then it’s late in the fall, because it gives you time to clean up and prepare for the spring.”

“If you had to pick a time, yes, this is a better time of year than the middle of the summer,” added John Lyberger, director of golf at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., which just last week finished clearing the last fallen tree from this summer’s derecho that impacted the AT&T National. “We’re in a time of year where the sun will come out and we can assess whatever damage has been done. We’ll take care of whatever needs to be taken care of on the golf course.”

Congressional isn’t the only major championship venue with that attitude. Two of next year’s four majors will take place in the Northeast, but each declared very little damage from this storm – and certainly nothing that will impinge either one’s ability as a host venue months from now.

“There was no major impact,” said Scott Nye, director of golf at Merion Golf Club, which will host next year’s U.S. Open. “We’re very fortunate. We have a stream on hole No. 11 and we were concerned about that, but we had no problems.”

“It was basically just rain up here and some wind, but it was not anything close to what was experienced in New York,” Dan Farrell, the general manager at Oak Hill Country Club said about the upcoming PGA Championship site. “Although we lost a couple of trees that are not in play, this won’t affect anything for the champ next year.”

The repercussions of Hurricane Sandy will be felt throughout the East Coast for weeks, months, even years. The repercussions on its golf courses are barely a blip on the radar screen surveying the total damage that’s been caused.

Yes, there will be long hours of hard work, course employees putting in overtime to chainsaw their way through branches or apply gypsum to the soil or otherwise get their places back into the pristine condition in which they previously existed. They understand, though, that their damage is not only minimal but trivial compared to what so many unfortunate victims are dealing with right now.

“You know, it’s a golf course. It’s not that big of a deal,” explained Frank Tichenor, the golf course superintendent at Forest Hill Field Club, an A.W. Tillinghast design in Bloomfield, N.J. “My mechanic who just started with me two months ago had the levee break near his house and watched his two cars float down the street. People lost their houses. I grew up at the Jersey Shore. It’s gone. We lose a couple of trees and it’s not life or death. We’ll get through it.”

Perhaps Currier summed it up best. “My problems are small,” he said, “compared with what most of the people around here are going through.

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.


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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.


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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”

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Players honor victims of Parkland school shooting

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:36 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – PGA Tour players are honoring the victims in the Parkland school shooting by wearing ribbons on their hats and shirts.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is located about 45 miles from PGA National, site of this week’s Honda Classic.

“It’s awful what happened, and anytime the Tour can support in any way a tragedy, we’re always going to be for it,” Justin Thomas said. “Anytime there’s a ribbon on the tees for whatever it may be, you’ll see most, if not all the guys wearing it. Something as simple and easy as this, it’s the least we could do.”


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The school shooting in Parkland, which claimed 17 lives, is the second-deadliest at a U.S. public school.

Tiger Woods, who lives in South Florida, offered this: “It’s just a shame what people are doing now, and all the countless lives that we’ve lost for absolutely no reason at all. It’s just a shame, and what they have to deal with, at such a young age, the horrible tragedy they are going to have to live with and some of the things they’ve seen just don’t go away.”