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Isabel tears through Virginia Beach, Ocean City 'back to normal'

Isabel can hit a power fade, but like everyone else, she can't control the game of golf by sheer force.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Her hurricane winds and rain caused much of Virginia and Maryland to find their way through darkness, but much of the Mid-Atlantic's coastal golf course community overcame the storm with relative ease.

Courses on the Delaware shore and in Ocean City, Md., closed Thursday in preparation for a major storm. Some lost power Friday, but after only an inch-and-a-half of rain and moderately high winds, they were open for business by Saturday morning.

Virginia Beach received the worst of the storm, with two inches of rain on already saturated turf, and 80-mile-per-hour winds. The Hampton Roads Daily Press, a newspaper in the Virginia Beach area, said Isabel was the "most devastating storm anyone can remember." The ground was softened in the rain and the wind blew trees right out of the ground. Golf courses there are still without power, and a handful could not be reached by telephone.

When Rees Jones designed Hell's Point in Virginia Beach, he said, "I want my designs to withstand the test of time." He didn't plan on Hurricane Isabel hitting the pine-laced, wetland property, which is less than two miles inland from the oceanfront.

Phone calls to Hell's Point on Friday and Saturday went unanswered, but head golf professionals from other Virginia Beach courses said that Hells Point was hurt the most by the storm.

The TPC at Virginia Beach, a course six miles inland, didn't have power as of Saturday morning, but opened its front nine and the practice range. The pro shop reported "lots of tree damage," but "no flooding issues." General Manager Chris Coleman could not be reached for comment.

Heron Ridge, a course the same distance from the oceanfront as the TPC Virginia Beach, had its entire 18 holes open Saturday in time for a 100-player tournament that afternoon. Golf professional Glen Pierce didn't exactly feel lucky - the power was still out - but considering the damage done to the other beach-area golf clubs, his links-style track was simply soggy.

"We only have three or four tree-lined holes," Pierce said. "We had a few trees uprooted, but our front nine was completely fine. We could have opened Friday."

But with the power out in a non-priority area - Heron Ridge does not have a housing development or a shopping center near its property - Pierce put together a makeshift snack bar by cooking hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill and serving bottles and cans of soft drinks.

Naturally, a links-style course would hold up better under the hurricane's conditions. But Heron Ridge was in the minority. Nearly two inches of rain fell in less than 12 hours in the Virginia Beach area, and ocean water was blown inland. The piers and roads were flooded, and more than 10 inches of water filled up a major commuter tunnel.

In addition to the actual damage, the golf courses took major revenue hits.

Heron Ridge said they lost $20,000. But it might even out after its tournament Saturday afternoon and the additional business from the Hell's Point regulars and other hard-hit courses.

On Maryland and Delaware's eastern shore, where most courses are at the end of their peak season, resort courses are reporting revenue losses in the neighborhood of $30,000.

Eagles Landing is a club that sits on the Sinepuxent Bay, also known as the bayside in Ocean City, Md. Three or four of its holes have standing water, but they're the same holes that collect water after every heavy thunder storm. Golf Operations Manager B.R. Robertson said a few willow trees were damaged, but for the most part, his course was playable by Saturday.

"We had very minimal damage and we were in a pocket that never lost power," he said.

Brett Marshall, head golf professional at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, Del., said they had hardly any damage at all other than the $16,000 it normally pulls in on Thursday and Friday.

"The courses closer to Washington, D.C., and Baltimore had a lot more damage than we did," Marshall said. "We were very lucky. We're open and back to normal."

In other words, for courses in Ocean City, Isabel was no worse than a breezy day in Scotland. But, having used up their luck, golf course personnel in the Mid-Atlantic hope they've seen the last of hurricanes for this year.

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