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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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."