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Ringenberger marches on after wildfires hit his course, home

California wildfires have affected thousands, including GCSAA member and director of agronomy P.J. Ringenberger.


IMG_3672-1 A hospitality tent used during the PGA Tour's Safeway Open burns after wildfires descended upon Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif. Photos courtesy of P.J. Ringenberger

The first thing that Laura Ringenberger, the wife of Silverado Resort director of agronomy P.J. Ringenberger, noticed was how the moon was an eerie pink.

The next thing to catch her eye was not just eerie, it was downright frightening. In the distance from the Ringenbergers’ home on Soda Canyon Road in Napa, Calif., she witnessed the wildfire coming down over the ridge. The distance between it and her home, which is only a few miles from the resort, was shrinking.

“That’s when the panic set in,” P.J. Ringenberger tells GCM.

A week ago today, that Sunday had begun innocently enough. Typical, in fact. Nothing signaled what was on the horizon as Ringenberger oversaw the conclusion of another successful Safeway Open, a PGA Tour event that featured Phil Mickelson and was won by Brendan Steele. By nightfall, however, typical was erased by fear. It was near 10:30 p.m. when the Ringenbergers had to move as swiftly as the impending wildfires that would turn deadly in Northern California. It wasn’t a matter of contemplation. It was, however, the only — and prudent — thing to do.

“We just pretty much plucked the kids (Sylvia and Gus) out of bed and left,” Ringenberger, a 23-year GCSAA member, says.

They drove away in their pickup truck and stopped to stay with friends 10 miles away, waking them up once they arrived. Their stay was brief. “We all had to evacuate from there, too,” Ringenberger says.

Ringenberger’s final stop near 1 a.m. was in the parking lot of a Home Depot. They slept there in their truck overnight, awakening just after sunrise, realizing they weren’t alone. “The entire lot was full of people. It looked like a small city,” Ringenberger says.

Sadly, some homeowners near Silverado Resort lost their lives. As for the property, it was spared for the most part, except for grandstands that were destroyed by fire. Ringenberger, 42, says the South Course could be open for play within the next two weeks. The status of the North Course, which played host to the Safeway Open, is up in the air. It could be open by the end of the month. Other facilities in the region, including Santa Rosa courses Fountaingrove Golf Club and Mayacama, where Dustin McIntosh and Dale Engman serve as superintendents, respectively, didn’t dodge the wildfires. Their maintenance facilities suffered major destruction and damage.

In the meantime, the Ringenbergers count their blessings. “There has been an outpouring of love,” he says.

 Ringenberger is back at work this week at Silverado, although officials earlier today still enforced a high fire danger status in the area. His family has stayed with friends, and he hopes their children return to school by Wednesday.

IMG_3699 Laura Ringenberger is reunited with the family cat Kitty Kitty Star after returning to survey the damage left behind when wildfires consumed their home in Napa, Calif.

There will be no returning, though, to their house. Last Wednesday, Laura got the first look at their home since last Sunday. It was not a sight to behold. Except for a portion of the fireplace, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house was destroyed. Of his entire 36-person crew, which includes superintendent Ryan Nicholson, Ringenberger was the only one who lost his home.

“The fire was so intense that it burnt the front yard. I had it so beautiful and lush,” Ringenberger says.

The family will regroup, promises Ringenberger. Others, tragically, can’t. “I just think about the people who lost their lives. For us, we’re very positive people. I feel our family is strong. This is a life lesson. We’ll learn from it," he says.

There is a small, furry silver lining for the Ringenbergers. As a TV crew filmed Soda Canyon Road, somebody heard a meow. Out popped the Ringenbergers’ Calico outdoor cat, Kitty Kitty Star, who had been left behind Sunday night as the family fled for their lives.

“Something good came out of it,” Ringenberger says. “That cat has 8.99 lives.”

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor.

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