Rebuild The Resurrection of Metairie CC

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Golf Chronicles: After KatrinaNEW ORLEANS -- Greg Cores eyes start to water. He gives pause to his speech. He tries to compose himself, and after almost a minute he manages to do so.
 
Upon doing so, he says, Dad called and said, You cant quit.
 
Dad was the same man who told him to hightail it out of town, the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the New Orleans area.
 
The younger Core had wanted to stay, believing that Katrina was just another storm, just a nuisance that would require a little extra clean-up. Then it became evident, to his father, to him, to everyone else, that this was not a storm it was The Storm.
 
So Core, head professional at Metairie Country Club for the past 10 years, had his crew stow away what could be stowed away and lock up that which could be locked up.
 
He then packed up a few items, grabbed his wife of less than one year and their cat, and did just like Dad told him.
 
They went to Jackson, Miss., wife Marthas hometown, though they didnt exactly hightail it. Thousands had exodus in mind, and what was normally a two-hour trip took nearly nine hours.
 
Ten days after exodus, and after bouncing around from place to place, they came back to experience Revelation.
 
Greg, Martha and one of Gregs two sons, Vance, a college student at Louisiana Tech, drove back to Metairie as far as dry land would take them. They then started walking as far as they could. Along their journey back home they came across a couple of Tulane students who had a canoe in the back of their truck.
 
They said, Were never coming back. If you want our canoe, take it, Greg recalled.
 
And so they did.
 
Martha and Vance, both of whom had breathing masks to protect them from bacteria, piled in. Greg, who was wearing chest-high wading boots and was without a mask, steered the canoe by foot, keeping it from tipping over into water blacker than the Devils heart.
 
It was horrifying, said Greg, who could only make it so far because of the stench of raw sewage and human excrement.
 
Greg retreated, while Vance took an oar and navigated him and his step-mother to what was left of their house.
 
We came back and everything was gray and drab ' no cars, just the sound of helicopters, Martha said.
 
Their two-story house, they discovered, was under nearly 5 feet of water. Their clothes, their car, most all of their possessions gone. They gathered what was salvageable and took some photographs.
 
When they met back up with Greg, the pro took a breathing mask and the canoe and then went to see what was left, if anything, of his course. He rowed over what used to be a fence, over the 16th tee, over the practice putting green, over 8 feet of water in some spots.
 
It was bad, he said. I cried a lot I didnt think we would ever be able to come back.
 
Metairie Country Club
Even when the water rescinded there was still plenty of work to be done.
The area had been hit very hard. The 17th Street Canal runs along the fourth hole and a breech had occurred just a few miles away. Not only was the course in ruins; every house in the upscale suburb was ravaged.
 
Greg, a Louisiana boy by birth and former collegiate player, had always wanted a life in golf. His dad, on the other hand, wanted him to become a lawyer. The son opted for his own dream.
 
He probably didnt talk to me for two years after making that decision, Greg said with a wry smile.
 
Thats why it meant so much to him to hear his fathers words of encouragement to persevere.
 
He never thought about quitting, Martha said. He feels like this course is a child.
 
Before Katrina, Greg had a staff of 175 employees. To get back to where they were, they would have to go forward with just three: Greg; green superintendent Andy Alexander; and Gregs friend, Mike Drury of Delta States Turf, Inc., who loaned the boys some equipment since all of theirs was lost.
 
They first had to get soil samples to make sure the ground wasnt toxic. When LSU sent word that everything was OK, they began to drain as much water as possible.
 
Then came the real task ' trying to keep the greens alive and trying to stay true to the Seth Raynor design.
 
Railroad ties, refrigerators ' you cant imagine what was on those greens, said Greg, who stayed with Martha in Vances apartment until they could move back into the upstairs of their house. We manually threw it off the green because it was killing them.
 
Metairie Country Club
Green superintendent Andy Alexander (l) had to use thousands of gallons of water to save Metairie's greens.
We had to get the gook off, so we hand-raked the greens daily for about a week.
 
After about three weeks, we saw a lot of progress, especially on the greens, because we were watering them (with fresh water) like crazy.
 
They began each day at 5:00 in the morning and didnt leave until after 8:00 each night. Said Alexander, There was no time to think about anything. It was full speed ahead.
 
Heat and stress made the long days longer ' yet there still never seemed to be enough hours in the day. But gradually, some of the staff started to return. And on December 1, 2005, well ahead of schedule, Metairie Country Club, which was first opened in 1922, was once again open for business.
 
Metairies membership is currently around 1,200 ' down about 200 members from before The Storm. There was a time that Greg was unsure that even if they could restore the course, that the members might not want him to, that golf wasnt anywhere near the top of their priority list.
 
Then they had a Town Hall meeting, and 600 members filled a 250-person facility to voice their support ' and to try to keep their course from becoming a retention pond.
 
They live here. This is their lives: breakfast, lunch, dinner and golf. This is their life, Greg said, pointing out that many have no other place to go.
 
Now at least they can get away from the stuff that theyre going through. Theyre happy to get out here. I dont think Ive had one complaint since we re-opened ' and that's rare in this business.
 
Bill Wegmanns family has been members at Metairie since 1959. Since Katrina, he has moved from Memphis to Baton Rouge to Broussard back to Baton Rouge and now back into his home, out of which he practices law.
 
Golf is now more than recreation.
 
I think when everything else is depressing you, he said, the ability to find something normal is huge.
 
Monty Glorioso has been a Metairie member for 13 years. Hes back to work as a physician, but his house is still four months away from being livable. His family is 350 miles away in Shreveport.
 
I dont have a game worth a darn, but its a great release, he said. I dont know what Id do without my golf course.
 
Said Roland Waguespack, whose house was recently leveled, Its nice to enjoy some greenery in our brown city.'
 
The members feel that they owe a great debt to their pro and their super. The two of them believe that they were just doing what needed to be done. They were just doing their jobs.
 
When we finally got in contact with one another, I said, If youre in, Im in, recalled Alexander. And we went to work.
 
When the process of rebuilding began, Core was a man without ' without just about anything but the clothes on his back. Alexander loaned him some of the essentials; Cutter & Buck provided him with 22 shirts and 10 pair of slacks; FootJoy sent him four pair of shoes.
 
I didnt ask for any of it; they just gave it to me, Greg said. That was special. Ill remember that forever.
 
Hell also forever remember his first hole-in-one. It came during the rebuild, when he was prodded to go to the Country Club of Louisiana to play in a fundraiser for superintendents and golf professionals in the region.
 
And, as luck would have it, there was an award on offer that day for any ace ' a BMW Z4. Not a bad prize for a man without a car.
 
But that day paled in comparison to when the club put on its annual Jingle Bells Pro-Am in December, and to when the ladies held their member-guest tournament in March.
 
Those events were more special than any material possession won. Those events were the tangible confirmations of the normalcy he had tried to restore.
 
Greg Core has his course back. Hes got most of his membership back, too. Hes got a new car. His house, save for the kitchen area, is just about up to par. His wife is due with their first child together on Nov. 1.
 
If God intends for something to happen, its going to happen ' no matter how prepared you are, Martha said.
 
Its just how you handle the aftermath.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Recovery: Professional Golf Returns to New Orleans
  • Rebirth: History on the Brink of Extinction
  • Golf Channel Airtimes - Golf Chronicles: After Katrina