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Hurricanes have long history of impacting golf courses

By Ron Garl, Special Contributer

Based in Lakeland, Fla., Ron Garl has won national and international awards, from Golf Digest, the Audubon Society, Golf Magazine, Links Magazine and Southern Living, among others. He was named "Golf Designer of the Year" by International Network of Golf in 1996.

What do Hugo, Andrew, the big four of 2004, Katrina and Wilma, have in common? They're all major hurricanes that took direct hits on golf courses designed by Ron Garl.

When a major hurricane of these magnitudes hit, it makes getting "back to business as usual" a very difficult matter. Most businesses don't encompass more than 175 acres, have a retail outlet (golf shop), restaurant and health club. Just getting the clean-up done can take weeks or months. It usually takes several days before equipment can start moving onto the golf course. If this is done too quickly you run the risk of creating even more damage.

I'll never forget Hurricane Hugo, which hit Charleston, S.C., in September of 1989. We had just completed construction on Stono Ferry Golf Course, located just outside of Charleston, and we were two days away from the grand opening. As soon as the airport reopened I flew my personal plane over the site. The devastation was enormous.

On the drive in to Stono Ferry I couldn't believe the number of damaged trees and there were numerous fires. The fires were coming from the burn piles, which were becoming necessary to dispose of the massive amount of fallen trees and debris.

When I arrived at the golf course it looked like a giant game of Pick Up Sticks was being played on the course. It took 10 days of hand-cutting trees just to be able to mow the greens. This was especially hard for me, because this site had a beautiful stand of trees. In fact, this was one of the things that I had fallen in love with the first time that I saw the site. If the truth be known, I probably left too many of those trees, but Hugo took care of that. Mother Nature has a way of righting wrongs; after a few years the remaining trees filled out and today the course looks great.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew came ashore south of Miami and exited at Naples. The Naples Beach and Golf Club was hit hard. Some $2 million later we had the course cleaned up and new trees planted. (Since Hurricane Wilma blew through Naples last week I guess we need to start formulating Plan 2.)

On Aug. 13, 2004 (Friday the 13th), Kingsway Golf & Country Club, just outside of Punta Gorda, Fla., took a direct hit from Hurricane Charley. This hurricane was very powerful, with gusts of 178 mph blowing over the golf course and downing 2,500 trees. It also caused major damage to the clubhouse, which resulted in a difference of opinion with the insurance carrier (a difference of opinion that Kingsway eventually won).

We let the course dry out for several days then started moving the debris and trees to the rough. This was done so they could mow the fairways and contain most of the damage to the roughs.

This summer a unique plan was formed to modernize, renovate and add key new features to the course. With Kingsway being in a great growth market, improvements to the golf course and clubhouse are key elements that will see membership skyrocket. (On a personal note, I would like to personally congratulate this club - they have a great membership and they are a great example of how a club renovation should be done.)

On Sept. 5, 2004, The Indian River Club in Vero Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Frances. We designed this course after the classic courses of the old South; and it is indeed a very special club thanks to its owner, Jeff Reynolds.

Trees are a very important element of the Indian River Club. After Hurricane Frances, we came up with a unique and bold plan to save many of the trees that had blown down. Special equipment and special people worked seven days a week to raise the fallen trees.

A special program was devised to control the soil, water and compaction of root zone area was used on hundreds of trees. This was going to be a great test for tree survival, but unfortunately, three weeks later Hurricane Jeanne blew through, blowing down many of the trees a second time. But the Indian River Club took heart, dug deep and dove back in to save many of the downed trees for a second time. This type of dedication is what makes the Indian River Club such a special place.

In between Frances and Jeanne, Hurricane Ivan roared ashore on Sept. 16, 2004, in the panhandle of Florida and hit numerous golf courses including two of the courses we designed - The Club at Hidden Creek in Navarre and Tiger Point in Gulf Breeze.

The heart and soul of hurricane recovery lies with the superintendent and his crew. These guys work 24-7 in an effort to get the course back open and into playing condition. They also work hand in hand with the golf shop staff making sure every detail has been taken care of. This is no FEMA program. No one has their hand out - these are committed, hard working people who love their work. Thanks, guys!

To be continued next month: Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma.

Ron GarlRon Garl, Special Contributer

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