Northeast courses bounce back thanks to The Plan


It is a feeling that arrests every single person who has endured a natural disaster. It grips you more than fear, vanquishes all of the anger. It is a sensation that overcomes all others, encompassing your physical and spiritual being until it’s the lone thought surviving in your mind.

It is the feeling of helplessness.

In the wake of this week’s Hurricane Sandy that wrought more than 90 fatalities and billions of dollars in damage, it’s a feeling that has permeated throughout the Northeast states. Its residents were unable to block the severe winds, powerless to the watery deluge that attacked from above. And so it remains the lone, last expression of pessimism, diverting all other feelings.


Don’t mistake this feeling, though, for a lack of effort or preparation. Being helpless isn’t equivalent in this situation to not trying or not preparing for the worst.

With so much devastation across the Eastern Seaboard, the following remains a miniscule, almost insignificant story in the aftermath, but it serves to prove that theme about helplessness not being commensurate with preparation.

Billy Casper Golf – named for the three-time major champion – owns and manages more than 140 courses throughout the United States, with about 25 in the region most affected by the recent storm. When the company was apprised of the impending weather situation last week, there was neither collective panic nor chaos. Instead, it simply referred staffers at each of those courses to The Plan.

That would be its Hurricane Preparedness Plan, a 10-page document owned and studied by officials at these courses, which serves as a virtual how-to manual not on surviving a natural disaster, but at least anticipating one to the best of their ability.

“It’s not magic,” says Brian O’Hare, the company’s vice president of operations for the Northeast. “It’s just something that we created, really just a lot of common sense put down on paper so that everyone can be on the same page, be prepared and protect our staff, guests and assets.”

The plan consists of four main sections, titled “General Information About Hurricanes and Tropical Storms,” “Hurricane Emergency Procedures,” “Post-Hurricane Procedures” and “Post-Hurricane Considerations.” Each section details the formation of an emergency committee for various parts of the club, pre- and post-storm policies for different time intervals and requisite safety measures.

“We shared that with all of our teams in preparation for the storm,” explains Bryan Bielecki, the company’s vice president of agronomy. “The guys on the ground deserve a ton of credit for getting prepped for the storm. They did everything from loading up on gasoline and gas cans to having all of their chainsaws ready. It’s all part of a communications plan which really worked well for us. That’s the meat and potatoes of it.”

There is no tangible way of measuring just how much revenue was saved by each course in terms of manpower and opening quickly enough to not lose consumers – even though, as O’Hare states, the demand has substantially softened in the days following the storm – however it’s easy to understand exactly how being prepared beat the alternative.

At roughly 20 of those affected courses, a pavilion tent rests on the patio, usually remaining there well into November. Rather than waiting, though, each 60-by-100 foot framed structure was removed last week, potentially saving the company $25,000-$30,000 in damage if not for The Plan.

“When the Hurricane Preparedness Plan was given to me, I was kind of shocked,” says Dan Guinle, general manager of 36-hole Royce Brook Golf Club in Hillsborough, N.J. “I’m in New Jersey, what the heck do I need a Hurricane Preparedness Plan for? Well, now we’ve experienced two of them in the last two years.'

“We’ve come through pretty good because of the plan. By the time the storm came, the doors were locked, everyone was inside and we rode it out. Considering the power of the storm that we had coming through here, we got through it pretty good.”

Guinle has spoken with multiple general managers in the area who maintain their courses won’t be open for another week to 10 days, but despite not having any power Royce Brook is already open for business, with a nearly full tee sheet set for this weekend.

It’s all thanks to The Plan, which ensured Guinle and his staff didn't suffer those pangs of helplessness when it came to the facility.

“Everyone who’s come here has a smile on their face,” he says. “They may not have bathed in a few days because they don’t have electricity or running water, but they’re happy to be on the golf course.”

And even happier to overcome that feeling of helplessness.