Golf course bounces back from Minnesota hail storm

Oakdale Golf Club was pummeled by baseball-sized hail. Superintendent-owner Mike Knodel spearheaded a surprisingly speedy comeback.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Laura and Mike Knodel are on the comeback trail following a massive hail storm that rocked the course they own, Oakdale Golf Club in Buffalo Lake, Minn., on Aug. 11. Photo courtesy of Laura and Mike Knodel

A blanket of white in January wouldn’t be a surprising scene for Mike Knodel. But in August, well. … this near white-out had to be seen to be believed.

Perhaps you saw footage from viral videos or read stories about what Knodel, owner and superintendent at Oakdale Golf Club in Buffalo Lake, Minn., experienced Aug. 11. In under five minutes, Oakdale GC was rocked by a super-sized hailstorm unlike anything Knodel or others at the facility located about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities had ever seen.

“I had seen quarter-sized hail, but nothing like this,” says Derek Hasselberg, who was there that day for a practice round on the eve of the Oakdale Men’s Invitational. “The destruction all around was pretty insane.”

You may think this is crazy too: One week later, Aug. 18, Oakdale GC reopened.

“We had 118 people out here today on a nice, sunny day in Minnesota,” Knodel, a 28-year GCSAA member, told GCM on Friday afternoon. “That number is a little down from a normal Friday, but it’s good to get back open. We’re obviously not going to have perfect greens, but we want to get golfers back out there.”

After all, this is his family’s livelihood. Knodel’s wife, Oakdale GC co-owner Laura Knodel, knew exactly how her husband would respond after the storm. “He’s a workaholic. He formulated plans right after the storm to get the course back in tip top shape,” she said. “Looks pretty good right now.”

Considering the course’s condition only days earlier, it seems like a miracle that Knodel, who is one of 12 on his crew, managed to make Oakdale GC playable so quickly. A swarm of volunteers, more than 100 of them, showed up to aid in recovery. They brought mowers with vacs, leaf blowers, rakes, shovels and even baked goods. Other nearby courses helped too.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
A portion of a blanket of white that covered Oakdale Golf Club. Knodel, his staff, and a slew of volunteers got the course back in playing condition in one week. Photo courtesy of Laura Knodel

Still, even Knodel wondered if this could happen in seven days — not after the carnage he witnessed. “This is something I have never seen in all my time here,” says Knodel, superintendent on site since 1996. “Sometimes Mother Nature is going to throw you a curveball.”

This, however, was more like a baseball-size fastball that came in droves. On the fateful day that started out warm and humid, Knodel noticed a chance for popup storms. “Cells were developing to the northwest of us. I saw the radar. I thought, ‘we could miss this,’” he says.

If only. By around 4:15 p.m., the club was in the bullseye. Knodel was inside the clubhouse, checking golfers in for the invitational tournament, which featured nearly 100 players. Some golfers on the course took shelter during the brief but eventful hail barrage.

Fortunately, nobody was injured, although wildlife wasn’t immune, including some birds and a fox that didn’t survive. The course, however, suffered. It didn’t help that the ground was still soft from rain the previous day. “We only got close to half an inch (of rain during the hailstorm),” Knodel says, “but seeing baseball-sized hail level the top of our greens. … we later saw video of hail hitting the pond and it looked and sounded like a war.”

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
This comparison of a golf ball to hail at Oakdale GC tells the story of a short-lived but devastating storm. Photo courtesy of Derek Hasselberg

By the time it was all done, three acres of greens looked like the site of a demolition derby. “It (hail marks) was three inches deep on some of the greens and 1- to 3-inches in other spots. “Every green,” he says, adding that to fill in the larger holes, “we used lots of sand. I sent some of the crew out with buckets of sand to fill in the larger holes that had settled out. The rolling has been instrumental in helping to smooth the surfaces. There will likely we some seeding into the larger hole areas in the next few weeks.” Besides rolling and watering, recovery included topdressing and aerifying greens. Aerification, which took place on Tuesday after the storm, typically occurs there in early October.

The Knodels were among many whose personal property was affected. Their cars were totaled. One of their daughters, Alyssa, lent Laura her car. Mike’s mechanic, Joe Kloss, let him borrow a vehicle. As for Hasselberg, whose videos went viral, he says the memory of what he saw will linger. “It was like walking in a field of golf balls. Baseballs embedded into a green. Every square inch had divots. When the storm hit, I was worrying at first about tornadoes. Then it just ramped up,” he says.

Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course
Devastation from hail, some of it baseball-sized, that pounded Oakdale GC. Photo courtesy of Derek Hasselberg

Hasselberg’s nephew, North Dakota State University golfer Beck Erholtz, really had it going during the practice round before all heck broke loose. “He was 6 under through 12,” says Hasselberg, who went on to say, “this is a gem of a golf course. Kind of a destination. It is worth the trip for people. And he (Knodel) is a genuinely great individual.”

For the first time that he can remember, Knodel had to cancel the event. As last Friday’s reopening drew near, he said height of cuts on greens would be raised from the usual .125-.130 to .140 for the time being before slowly bringing them back down.”

Knodel spoke to golfers Friday. It sounds as if they were pleasantly surprised to have access so soon. “I think it boggled their minds we were playing or when we would play again or ever play again,” Knodel says.

For one golfer, it served as kind of a grand reopening. “A guy who is a high handicapper said he had his best putting day ever,” Knodel said with a laugh, a much-needed light moment in what was one week neither man likely never will forget.

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.