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Hurricane Sandy leaves plenty of golf course devastation

RSS

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.