Hurricane season is a unique challenge for offshore superintendents

As harsh weather looms, superintendents and crews from Bermuda to the Bahamas prep their courses.


Aerial view of Puntacana Resort & Club
An overhead shot of the Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic. Photos courtesy of Puntacana Resort & Club

Julio Diaz knew this could happen. But why now?

In April 2017, the PGA Tour announced it was taking the professional tournament at the Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic up a notch from what was known then as the Tour. Making history, the tournament — the Corales Puntacana Championship — was elevated to PGA Tour status at Puntacana’s Corales course. It would be the first PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic. “It’s a huge responsibility hosting a PGA Tour event,” says Diaz, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 25-year association member.

Time was on his side. Or so it seemed.

Distant offshore settings, some in exotic places, can be breathtaking — a thing of beauty. On occasion, they can be a beast. Superintendents who toil in places such as Bermuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic can attest. For them, as summer winds down and fall approaches, hurricanes can be a matter of life and death. What went down in 2017 was devastating. A mere week apart in September to early October, hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in succession and pummeled several locations. It resulted in lost lives and destruction of homes and buildings. Golf courses were not immune, including Corales, which got walloped. The 11-month window Diaz originally was presented once the PGA Tour event was confirmed now was significantly narrowed in order to recover in time for its PGA Tour debut.

For Diaz and other superintendents in his corner of the world who have walked in his shoes, they put their best foot forward when hurricane season confronts them. “You prepare. And you also prepare for the worst. In this part of the world,” Diaz says, “that’s normal.”

Julio Diaz
GCSAA Class A superintendent Julio Diaz is a native of the Dominican Republic, where he is stationed at Puntacana Resort & Club.

Due diligence in Bermuda 

Of course, golf courses have hazards, but this was a bit extreme.

What previously was a standing tree on hole No. 1 served as a backdrop for a photo of GCSAA International Superintendent Member Jayson Jackson the day after Hurricane Humberto wrecked part of Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton, Bermuda, in mid-September 2019. The swift Category 3 storm came ashore in the darkness of night creating havoc, even damaging much of the country’s agronomic crop.

“I knew the situation was going to be grave when I needed a chain saw for vehicle access to the maintenance facility,” says Jackson, a two-year association member whose course features the famous par-3 16th that calls for a shot that must carry rock and the Atlantic Ocean. “To see so many fallen trees was a very sad sight to witness. My first thoughts when looking at the damage was to commence removing trees from greens, tees and fairways immediately.”

Time definitely was an issue. Humberto did its damage just one month before the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Port Royal GC was going to host its inaugural Bermuda Championship on the PGA Tour, which was making its official event debut on the island. Bermuda, which according to the Bermuda Weather Service initially was colonized in 1609 as the result of a direct hurricane when an English ship ran aground, is considered to be part of Hurricane Alley. That refers to a section of warm water in the Atlantic Ocean that stretches from the west coast of northern Africa to the east coast of Central America and the southern region of the Gulf Coast in the United States in which hurricanes originate. Jackson has done his due diligence when it comes to hurricane season, which, according to the National Weather Service, runs roughly from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Hurricane Humberto damage at Port Royal
Jayson Jackson, superintendent at Port Royal Golf Courses in Southampton, Bermuda, encountered tree damage, including the felling of this huge one, in the aftermath of Hurricane Humberto in 2019. Photo courtesy of Jayson Jackson

“I’ve created a detailed hurricane plan for both Port Royal and Ocean View agronomy department, which we abide by during these times. The four major elements of this plan are to prepare, verify, confirm and communicate,” Jackson says. “Our agronomic plan doesn’t waver tremendously, as we have our PGA Tour event during this period and the commencement of numerous international and local tournaments. Many of our month-to-month agronomic practices marry the needs of pre-hurricane arrival, such as controlling salt levels on our green complexes and constant tree pruning for hurricane readiness. Our major concerns after a hurricane are tree damage, salt and wind burn.”

Jackson is prepping for the fourth edition of what is now known as the PGA Tour’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship, which begins Oct. 28 (by the way, the event went off as scheduled in 2019). His support system is critical to overseeing an event that makes Bermuda proud. “Meeting with the Tour on regular occurrence is imperative for the operation to succeed all year round and not just during or around the tournament schedule,” Jackson says. “To host a PGA Tour event in Bermuda at a public golf facility owned and operated by the Bermuda government through the Consolidated Board of Trustees as governing body of both golf courses, currently chaired by Mr. Kim Swan, is massive for the entire country of Bermuda,” Jackson says. “Fortunately, we have additional staff from early spring until the end of our PGA Tour event, which helps us massively in completing tasks and assisting with damage incurred by a hurricane.”

Jackson is a Bermuda native who was a standout field hockey player (as is Swan, a Bermuda national team member) and studied turfgrass at the University of Guelph. He has worked globally, including in Hong Kong and Card Sound Golf Club in Key Largo, Fla., when GCSAA Class A superintendent Sean Anderson was there. Jackson’s presence in those days still resonates with Anderson. “He’s a great friend and one of the most inspiring people I’ve met in my life,” says Anderson, a 17-year association member at Eagle Point Golf Club in Wilmington, N.C. “His enthusiasm, infectious smile … he’s seen a lot of different cultures, and I think that really helps him where he’s at now.”

During Humberto, Jackson lost power at his residence for one week. His crew, however, was a powerful force. “I’m very proud of the entire team to push through such a momentous task,” he says.

Matt and Kassie DiMase
Matt DiMase oversees The Abaco Club on Winding Bay in the Bahamas as director of agronomy. Here he is with his wife, Kassie. Photo courtesy of Matt DiMase

Weathering the storm in the Bahamas

An innocent discussion about fish escalated into a serious matter for Matt DiMase.

Director of agronomy and landscape at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay in the Bahamas, DiMase was out on the evening of Aug. 29, 2019. “I was having a few beers with some local anglers, and they said the fish were not biting. It was weird to them,” says DiMase, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 12-year association member. “I asked if anyone thought water temperatures had anything to do with it. They laughed and said, ‘The water is 91, 92 degrees. If the fish are leaving, we should too.’ That is where internally I had concerns.”

By Saturday night, six employees at the club (DiMase included) hunkered down for the duration of Hurricane Dorian, which arrived Sunday. “At first it was a constant howling, then like a freight train, then it sounded like we were standing next to a jet engine full throttle. Minutes turned into hours, and hours turned into days,” DiMase says. 

The group remained indoors during the Category 5 hurricane until Wednesday. “Weather-wise, it (Wednesday) was beautiful. One of the nicest days ever. But destruction was everywhere,” DiMase says. “Our concern was staff. How do we contact them? How do we get them? Marsh Harbour, the main town and island hub, was underwater. It was days before the water subsided and we could get to the staff and try to help.” The club suffered damage to trees, windows and roofs. The course flooded. 

DiMase wasn’t supposed to be at the club that weekend. He ended up canceling his flight to Florida to be with his wife, Kassie, and their children, Reece, Kennedy and Mattingly, for Kennedy’s birthday party (the family has a schedule in which they’re together at least four days monthly, whether in the Bahamas or Florida). 

Hurricane Dorian, meanwhile, provided perspective. “I immediately learned to be grateful for life,” DiMase says, “and I learned how our property and my crew was more than just workers. We were family. I always run a department and crew much like a sports team with a locker room feel, a sense of brotherhood with everyone having each other’s back. This hurricane brought everyone that much closer.”

Josh Wentzell cannot imagine a better individual to be in a leading role during and after a hurricane. “He’d say, ‘What can I do to stop it? But I am there to put it back together.’ He’s people-oriented. He loves everyone and puts everything he has into them. He sees them as assets,” says Wentzell, who worked under DiMase at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Fla., and currently is its superintendent. “He has such a logistical mind and the ability to better a situation.”

The experience also elevated hurricane preparedness at The Abaco Club, which in January 2022 hosted the Tour’s Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club. 

“I utilize our emergency operations plan to plan my base program as well as potential adverse effects from being hit with a hurricane,” says DiMase, who has previous island club experience, having worked at Haig Point, a short water-taxi ride from Hilton Head, S.C., to Daufuskie Island. “I will add calcium products and/or increased growth regulators, as well as an organic fertilizer for recovery, and a broad-spectrum fungicide in case of an outbreak. For supplies, we begin stocking up at the end of winter/early spring with batteries, flashlights, ponchos and so on. We have a dedicated ‘hurricane box’ that is solely for use in the event of a hurricane. The contents inside this box are checked monthly throughout the year and locked, with only me and one other person having the key. Chain saws, satellite phone, flare gun, three-ring binder with up-to-date employee information are some of the contents, as well as government contacts and a list of private aviation companies.

“Last thing I’d say: plan, plan (for him, up to 18 months in advance). If your owner and membership understand that, you’ll be successful. You need to be able to adapt, call audibles, think on your toes. There’s no Home Depot, Grainger, Northern Tool, Walmart or salesman who can deliver fungicide if you get disease outbreak. It’s just you and your playbook. If you have some MacGyver in you, you’ll be successful in the islands. But if you cannot think creatively, the islands will eat you up and spit you out.” 

Karla Cora
Karla Cora is director of agronomy at TPC Dorado Beach Resort & Club in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of TPC Dorado Beach

A driving force in Puerto Rico

Karla Cora has proved to be more than a superintendent.

She is a leader as director of agronomy at TPC Dorado Beach in Dorado, Puerto Rico. She is a visionary. Cora has been at the forefront in the charge to create the Caribbean Golf Course Superintendents Association. And she most certainly is thankful. When hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the area in 2017, it profoundly affected her in numerous ways.

“What did I learn in the aftermath? I learned many things from these events,” says Cora, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 12-year association member. “Professionally, I learned that we are surrounded by extraordinary people that have the commitment to come to work and give their best, even during major disaster circumstances. We supported each other and were able to overcome the challenges created by the weather event. Personally, I have learned that we have a lot more than what is needed to live. We are blessed to have a roof, basic food and a close family. It was a life-changing experience.”

Cora has team members who lost nearly everything in the hurricanes. For practically everyone, it was chaos. “Communication and electricity were lost for up to four months, and in some areas, more than a year,” she says. “We focused on the task at hand. That included cleanup of access roads and drainages, fallen tree and branch cleanup, managing lake levels and daily fuel monitoring. We provided lunch, ice and to-go dinners for team members. Slowly, we began mowing work to areas that were accessible, do property landscape evaluation and hiring of contractors to begin renovation.”

If a hurricane strikes again, Cora has done what she can to prepare. “Working on an island teaches you how to be patient and creative. Sometimes having tools and supplies that are needed can take longer periods of time (to obtain) compared to the mainland. That also means you have to stay ahead in your orders to make sure you have tools and supplies on time,” she says.

Scott Jones knows Cora, DiMase and many others like them. A three-decade international sales manager for Florida Turf Supply/Golf Ventures located in Lakeland, Fla., Jones travels for work to the Caribbean, Central America and South America. He understands a superintendent’s plight in those locations is quite different from the U.S. “In Florida, superintendents have several people at their door trying to get in and sell to them. Where Karla and Matt are located, only limited supplies are easily accessible, requiring precise preparation to keep their operation running efficiently. They don’t have things they need at their fingertips,” says Jones, who visits faraway islands two or three times per month. “They appreciate the extra effort in our business to make shipments precise and provide accurate paperwork.”

Cora was born and reared in Puerto Rico and attended the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus, earning a bachelor’s degree in agronomy. She started her career in landscape before being hired as a horticulturist at Palmas de Mar in Humacao, Puerto Rico. She was promoted to assistant superintendent, a steppingstone to her move to TPC Dorado Beach, which is a Robert Trent Jones design that later was renovated by Robert Trent Jones Jr.

A key goal for the Caribbean GCSA is to elevate the profession on the island and enhance the recognition of the golf course superintendent as a professional and to collect and disseminate information to assist members in providing for better maintenance and construction of their golf courses and for any other purpose, including but not limited to educational and/or research service, allowed (in Puerto Rico’s case for what’s allowed under the Commonwealth of PR). The chapter also hopes to bolster ties between superintendents in the region who can use helping hands and allies to lean on when hurricanes intervene.

“It is important to continue to develop the golf course industry as a career and to have the support needed for this unique location,” Cora says.

Puntacana Corales course ninth green
The ninth green at the Corales course at Puntacana Resort & Club in the Dominican Republic was rebuilt following hurricanes that battered the region in 2017.Photo courtesy of Puntacana Resort & Club

Resolve, recovery and ready

Back at Puntacana Resort & Club, Diaz already has the 2023 PGA Tour event on his radar. Obviously, the PGA Tour thinks highly of the Corales Puntacana Championship. In 2021, the Tour announced a four-year extension of the event, taking it to 2025. 

Five years ago, after hurricanes Irma and Maria tested their mettle, Diaz and his team dedicated themselves to restoration. It was especially trying for Diaz, a native Dominican from the southern town of Azua, where his father was a farmer. The family lost its plantation during a hurricane when Diaz was a youngster.

“Three days before (the hurricanes), the golf course was looking so nice,” says Diaz, who went to Rutgers University, worked on Long Island courses such as Wind Watch Golf & Country Club in Hauppauge, N.Y., and has been at Puntacana 21 years. “I don’t have words to describe the feelings I had afterward. The hurricanes destroyed Nos. 7, 8, 9 and part of 18. Nothing was left of 8 and 9. It took out all the sloping we had. Seed was peeled off. See a picture of it, and you don’t see anything in some places. We had five months to prepare for the tournament (in 2018). There was no time to waste to get it done, which we did.”

On the scene for the recovery was Fazio Golf Course Designers Senior Design Associate Tom Marzolf. It wasn’t a pretty sight. “Turf was stripped. Little stones everywhere. The irrigation system flooded out of the ground. It was a mess,” Marzolf says.

Puntacana Corales course ninth green
Damage was a theme at the Corales course from the September 2017 hurricanes. Order was restored in time for play before the end of the year. Photo courtesy of Julio Diaz

Fortunately, a decision that was made before the course opened in 2010 paid dividends in 2017 — and still does today. “We had the turf nursery in place. That was huge for us. We had plenty of grass available when we needed it,” Diaz says. Crucial to the recovery, and what continues to be a boost for Corales, was fixing the issue at oceanside holes 8 and 9, which are exposed like a tip sticking out of the ocean and endured waves that reached 40 feet, easily clearing shoreline. A new sea wall is over 6 feet high and anchored into the rock base, featuring a built-in footer drain. “It’s a real pretty area, but they are open to the ocean, bearing the brunt,” Marzolf says. 

Marzolf marvels at what Diaz and his team achieved. “They brought in bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks. He had a human chain of people. He’s a sharp guy, smart guy. It’s his home. He’s determined. He grasps things very quickly. Give him a laundry list of things to do, and he’s on it,” says Marzolf, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 2005-06, whose new greens designs allowed Diaz to stake and build. “The confidence everybody has in Julio, to have PGA Tour conditions on paspalum turf in that short of time … they worked day and night to get it done.”

By mid-December 2017, the Corales course reopened — quite a testimony to Diaz and his team. They weathered the storm. As Diaz knows, however, being aware even in the luxurious resort surroundings where he is employed is the best policy. He and others like him are particularly on guard as summer creeps toward potentially unsettled times. “There’s not much I can do about hurricanes. You know you won’t be able to stop them,” Diaz says. “You get ready in any way you can. And you get used to it.”

Been there, done that

If you personally don’t know superintendent Alejandro Baiocchi, perhaps you have seen his photography.

He took a picture of a Royal palm tree that was impaled by a piece of timber on a golf course patio home in Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, during Hurricane Maria in 2017. He was stationed in those days at TPC Dorado Beach as its East Course superintendent. The image of that two-by-four lodged in the tree still resonates with him. “How in the world? To fly over a house at that speed and angle. … it had to be the epitome of Maria,” Baiocchi says.

Alejandro Baiocchi

An 11-year member of GCSAA, Baiocchi worked in his youth as an intern for the grounds crew of the Baltimore Orioles; that same year in 2005 he was a spray technician at Manor Country Club in his hometown of Rockville, Md. His first assistant job came in 2007 at Washington Golf & Country Club in Arlington, Va., before he headed west to Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., as an assistant-in-training, followed by a stretch from 2011-16 as assistant at San Gabriel Country Club in San Gabriel, Calif. (where he learned from then-superintendent Mark Reed to keep it simple in agronomy terms).

Baiocchi secured his first superintendent job six years ago at TPC Dorado Beach. He understood the hurricane scenario in that setting and tried to prepare.

“I did my research on them (hurricanes). Still, you think ‘What are the chances?’ You couldn’t learn anything in school to prepare for a hurricane,” says Baiocchi, who earned a certificate in turfgrass management from Penn State University.

hurricane damaged palm

It took just one year at TPC Dorado Beach for Baiocchi to encounter his first hurricane when Hurricane Irma struck in September 2017. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit. “We were not close to being done with the first recovery. The second one destroyed us even more,” he says, noting the pump house roof was obliterated. “I couldn’t get in touch with my family (in Maryland) for one and a half weeks.”

Baiocchi did, though, take precautions before the hurricanes arrived. “It’s hard sometimes to get things in Puerto Rico so we stock things. Tools. Equipment. Made sure drainage lines were clear, clean — every single one of them. A ton of them. Probably over 100 drains. If they clogged, that’s terrible. We knew where every single drain is and where to open and close them,” he says. “We controlled the level of our ponds. Sometimes we let water out of our property because it would get too high.”

In 2018, Baiocchi was offered the chance to come home. He left for Woodmont Country Club in Rockville and started out as South Course assistant superintendent. In spring 2021, Baiocchi was named North Course superintendent.

In retrospect, Puerto Rico provided Baiocchi experience tackling a multi-course facility, such as Woodmont. “It (TPC Dorado Beach) was the first facility I was at of that size. It was a different animal, with four courses and a lot of moving parts,” he says. “You learn to be organized in every aspect.”

What he doesn’t miss about Puerto Rico are those mischievous and destructive iguanas that reveled in bunkers. Otherwise, he never doubted his decision to ply his trade across the ocean and potential of being in harm’s way.

“Was it worth it going to Dorado? Yes,” Baiocchi says. “I saw an opportunity, and I took it. And it brought me home.”

Howard Richman ( is GCM’s associate editor.