Chapters assist golf course fire recovery

Four GCSAA chapters came to the aid of Sharon (Conn.) Country Club's superintendent following a blaze.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Smoke pours from the turf care facility at Sharon Country Club. Superintendent Duncan McGowan received help from area GCSAA chapters while the club recovered from the blaze. Photos courtesy of Duncan McGowan

July 29 was a normal day for Duncan McGowan. Until it wasn’t.

On that Saturday morning shortly after 7, McGowan was rolling the green on No. 4 at Sharon (Conn.) Country Club. Suddenly, his eyes beheld to an alarming sight: smoke coming from his turf care facility. “I knew we were in trouble,” he says.

A call to 911 and the arrival of multiple fire department trucks wasn’t enough to save most of the facility. The building had been built with a firewall between the cold storage and heated areas, and this prevented a complete loss. The firewall, however, was no match for this blaze, which melted steel girders. No cause of the fire has been determined. “Many of the firefighters said it was the hottest fire they’ve ever seen,” McGowan says.

Quickly, McGowan realized he wasn’t alone at the nine-hole facility. As many as four GCSAA chapters — Connecticut Association of Golf Course Superintendents, Metropolitan GCSA, Hudson Valley GCSA and GCSA of New Jersey — either reached out or helped McGowan, whether it was to lend equipment or simply provide moral support. Among those who helped out were Marc Weston, CGCS, a GCSAA national board member and 26-year GCSAA member at Indian Hill Country Club in Newington, Conn.; GCSAA Northeast region field staff representative Kevin Doyle; and Metropolitan GCSA President Brett Chapin.

“It’s emotional to know so many people are willing to help. It kind of goes to show the importance of networking, volunteering on the board like I did (for seven years in the Connecticut chapter) and developing relationships,” says McGowan, an 18-year GCSAA Class A superintendent.

Initially, McGowan (second from right in photo below, surrounded by his crew) said he lost up to 90% of his equipment. He was spared a sprayer, one utility vehicle, one greens mower, a topdresser and attachments. “The cup cutter made it. We could mow greens, change cups every day,” he says.

Distributors, plus individuals from the aforementioned chapters, responded once people such as CAGCS President Scott Ramsay, CGCS, spread the word. A 40-year GCSAA member at Country Club of Farmington, in Farmington, Conn., and a hockey player much of his life, Ramsay used a hockey analogy to describe what is happening here. “We’d bang heads, throw elbows in the corner, but once we took our helmets off and had a beer, it was a community, where everyone is open to sharing,” Ramsay says.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
From left: Mark Duntz, Paul Menin, Alex Simpson, Mike Coe, McGowan and Glen MacGillivray are part of the team at Sharon Country Club who weathered a fire at the club.

That even goes for strangers. GCSAA Class A superintendent and 31-year association member Pau Dotti at Arcola Country Club in Paramus, N.J., is more than an hour drive from McGowan, yet offered him a sprayer. “I don’t really know him at all but saw he was in need,” Dotti says.

Same sentiments from Rob Dorsch, CGCS. “He sent me a (Toro) Sidewinder. That was huge,” McGowan says. A 32-year association member who oversees Richter Park Golf Course in Danbury, Conn., Dorsch connected with distributor Turf Products Corp. on a Friday. On Monday, the Sidewinder was delivered to McGowan. “It’s about just doing the right thing,” Dorsch says.

Meanwhile, McGowan’s team, including assistant Alex Simpson, a 10-year association member, are using the old maintenance barn and working out of shipping containers. “Hopefully by next spring we’ll be at 75% (equipment).” McGowan says. “We’ll make it work. It’s only a temporary situation. I’m pretty good at letting things roll off my back, thankfully. Otherwise, you’d be in a dark place if you didn’t.”

Undoubtedly, he’s thankful for those who’ve got his back. “It makes a big difference when you’re in a crisis and being comforted by people who help you out,” he says.

Howard Richman is GCM's associate editor