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Inside GCM: Troubled waters



Hurricane Harvey-related flooding on the 18th green looking toward the tee at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas. Photo courtesy of Tim Huber

It could have been worse. In many instances, it was.

“We had 31 inches of rain from Friday to Tuesday at our golf course,” says Jeffrey Smelser, CGCS, who oversees Galveston (Texas) Country Club. “We had 51 inches at our house, so it wasn’t so bad.”

Hurricane Harvey swept through southern Texas in late August, and just as that storm seemed to weaken, Hurricane Irma targeted Florida, making landfall in the Florida Keys on Sept. 10. It carved a path of mayhem on both sides of Florida’s coasts, including in Miami and Naples, and worked its way north into Georgia and other states in the region.

Each hurricane’s wrath claimed lives, created crippling power outages, and displaced countless residents — or, at the very least, left them picking up the pieces. “One of my employees had his house flooded,” says Smelser, a 27-year GCSAA member. “We gave him as much time off as he needed.”

“Time” is the operative word. Time to grieve. Time to heal. To that end, GCSAA’s Disaster Relief Fund, established in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina, is a resource for members who have suffered personal loss or medical hardship as a result of Harvey or Irma. If you are a member who has been personally impacted by the hurricanes, or if you’d like to donate to GCSAA’s Disaster Relief Fund, all the information you need is at

As we finished this issue of GCM in mid-September — which was before Florida courses had been fully assessed for damage (you can find the latest updates here at GCMOnline) — some Texas courses remained in limbo. On its website, 36-hole Cypresswood Golf Club in Spring, Texas, posted that it would be closed until further notice because of storm damage. Other courses, such as High Meadows Ranch Golf Club in Magnolia, Texas, managed to recover in short order. “There are courses within 20 minutes of us that might not open this year,” says Cody Spivey, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at High Meadows Ranch and a 21-year association member. “We had 33 inches, but were fortunate enough to withstand it. You kind of feel bad that you’re mowing, doing normal things, before some were seeing their golf courses for the first time several days later.”

 GCSAA Class A superintendent Terry Gill of Braeburn Country Club in Houston has encountered devastation at the hand of Mother Nature in the past, but considers Harvey different. “I’ve been here 18 years and had floods, but nothing like this,” says the 27-year GCSAA member. “I don’t know what else you could have done. Now, you just do what it takes to get it done.”

Braeburn reopened for play on Sept. 6. To make the course playable, Gill’s crew had to overcome the effects of 43 inches of rain, the destruction of more than $500,000 of electric equipment, and as many as six holes that were under 5 feet of water. That’s what superintendents do, right?

“Two of my guys lost everything they had in their houses but still came to work. We’re kind of trained to do this,” Gill says.

GCSAA South Central field staff representative John Walker made visits to affected superintendents in his region soon after Harvey, and says he’s been impressed by their resolve. “The superintendents who could not get on their golf courses for a day or two stood on the sidelines, assessing, came up with a plan, and were ready to go,” Walker says.

What Harvey has left behind has Tim Huber, CGCS, of The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas, in future mode, and that includes taking into consideration the fact that all of this could happen again. “The second fairway was destroyed. We may change the design of that hole to create a feature so it doesn’t happen again — create a defense for when the water does come up again, which hopefully is not for another thousand years,” says Huber, a 12-year GCSAA member, adding that he had to replace in the ballpark of 35 bunker rakes, some of which simply floated away.

For other superintendents, such a loss would have been the least of their worries.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.

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