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After the storm: Return: Houston hosting PGA Tour

Golf Club of Houston after Hurricane Harvey
Getty Images

The PGA Tour returns to Houston this week, seven months after Hurricane Harvey devastated the area. senior writer Ryan Lavner writes on the continued efforts of recovery in a three-part series, including how the host course came back to life.

AFTER SPENDING THE AFTERNOON at the Golf Club of Houston, Steve Timms flipped through his camera roll and posted a few photos to his Twitter account.

The scene was too extraordinary to keep to himself.

Timms, the longtime president of the Houston Golf Association, showed the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey: that the first and 18th holes, once separated by a lake, were now just one massive body of water; that there were whitecaps behind the media center; and that the University of Houston coaches were kayaking to their office building to retrieve equipment.

“There was literally water as far as you could see,” Timms said.

So it’s even more remarkable that, seven months later, you’d never know that the home of the Houston Open was completely flooded after nearly 40 inches of rain.

“It’s in a great place,” he said recently, “and it’s pretty incredible that it is with the severity of the flood.”

Timms never could have imagined that favorable outcome when he uploaded those pictures Aug. 27, in the midst of what became a historic, five-day soaker.

The Golf Club of Houston is bisected by the Greens Bayou, which carries water from north Houston to Galveston Bay and then into the Gulf of Mexico. The Tournament Course’s tees and greens are built atop a 100-year floodplain, but that offered little protection against Harvey, a 500-year storm that bounced along the coast, stuck between two high-pressure systems.

With floodwaters rapidly approaching the University of Houston’s golf facility on the range, the coaches attempted a daring rescue. As the eye of the storm passed, offering a one-hour window of relative calm, they took off toward the building in kayaks and an inflatable raft.

“I’m paddling like hell,” said Houston men’s coach Jonathan Dismuke, “and the current was so strong that I was still getting pulled toward the Bayou. It was so powerful.”

They retrieved all of the women’s clubs, their new cameras, computers, two TrackMans and other valuables. “Maybe it was out of stupidity and sheer boredom,” Dismuke said, “but we thought it was a good idea at the time.”

Timms’ greatest concern was that all of the water and silt would cause turf damage – the 50-acre parking lot was submerged under 6 feet of water. Any significant setbacks would be crushing to the future of the Houston Open, the tournament he runs, since it was already on track to be played this year without a title sponsor.

“But it was amazing how quickly the water receded,” he said. Three days after the storm, the staff was mowing again. “That’s a tribute to really good engineering.”

All of the bunkers underwent a complete renovation last fall, but that was the extent of the damage – the course lost only a few trees. PGA Tour agronomist Mike Crawford made a site visit earlier this year and reported that the course is in “good condition,” a testament to superintendent Brian Buckner and his crew.

“If you look at pictures from September and then now,” Dismuke said, “you wouldn’t be able to really understand the scope of the damage.”

Added Timms: “I don’t think there’s going to be any noticeable areas to TV viewers.”

One of the longest-running tournaments on the Tour schedule, the Houston Open remains without a sponsor. Timms is hopeful a deal will get done, eventually, and said this year’s event will have a “Houston-centric theme about the recovery.”

“We’re coming back,” he said. “We’re resilient.”

Just like the Houston Open’s home course.