Heavy spring rains caused many problems for Midwest golf courses this spring. Michigan was particularly hit hard by flooding river systems. Grand Island Golf Course is located on the banks of the Grand River in Grand Rapids, Michigan and is owned by GCSAA member Joe Hancock. Joe is also the current Vice President of the Western Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association.
Grand Island is owned and operated by Joe Hancock and business partner Todd Brunsink. They purchased the course from family members in 1997. It is an 18 hole, public course that caters to the average everyday type golfer with very reasonable rates and hometown service.
Joe and Todd knew the history of the club when they bought it. It is in a flood plain. They also knew that the history of flooding was frequent, but never devastating. In the past, the course would be down for a week or so, but with little turf damage. They actually expect periodic flooding and have learned to deal with it.
In early May 2004 the Grand River crested its banks and began filling the surrounding landscape. The golf course floods when the river reaches about 11 feet above normal levels. Joe was concerned, but had certainly been there before, or so he thought. By the time it was over, the river had peaked at 20 feet and half of the course had been under a foot of water for more than 30 days.
The damage was devastating. It looked as though a nonselective herbicide was blanket sprayed over everything. Fairways and roughs were completely dead on nearly 15 acres. Other large patches around the course where water collected were also dead. A crust of silt covered the property. It was a sea of brown slop. Greens were untouched by water because they sat above the water line. “The trouble,” Joe says, “Is that we couldn’t get to the greens without a row boat, so we ended up having disease covered greens that were almost an inch long.”
As the time passed, Joe began to realize the potential devastation not only to his turfgrass, but also to his business. “As small business owners, everything we have is tied up in this golf course.” There were no revenues. There is no flood insurance available in a flood plain. The cost to rebuild and reseed was certainly more than they could afford. And, even if they could afford it, it would be a nearly impossible task for Joe and his very small crew. He was almost certain he would lose his business.
The Western Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association is a very tight knit group of golf course superintendents, assistants, equipment managers, crewmembers, and very caring industry vendors. Joe is the current vice president of the association, so we talk very frequently. As the weeks of flood went on, I could hear the depression grow in Joe’s voice. It was when Joe told me that he would almost surely lose the business short of a miracle that I decided to rally the troops. I asked Joe what he needed to get things back up and running. We talked about reseeding to all rye grass just to get the course open again. He needed equipment to break through the crust that covered the property. He needed seed and fertilizer. He needed a lot of manpower and equipment.
The e-mail went out to the association members on June 8. We wanted some help to rebuild Grand Island Golf Course on June 15. I was hoping to get about 10 guys that would come over for a day and help seed. Three days later I had 40 members signed up to work, and enough equipment donated to accomplish anything we needed to do. Those that couldn’t attend the workday offered to buy lunch or beverages. Vendors provided product at no cost and helped transport equipment to and from the course with their trailers. Michigan State University sent five graduate students and Pete Cookingham of the Turfgrass Information Center came over to document the day.
Our original work date of June 15 was cancelled due to more rain, but we were able to regroup and work two days later on the 17th. It was a great day. WMGCSA chapter members and other Michigan chapter members all came together to help their brother. Joe started the day by saying a little prayer of thanks for the help and support of all his friends, and asked that everyone be kept safe while we worked. Teams were divided up to verticut, seed, roll, fertilize, fix bunkers, run product, etc. By the end of the day we reseeded the golf course fairways, roughs and tees. We fertilized everything. We rebuilt the bunkers so that they were playable. And, we all had a great time. Joe was very overwhelmed and emotional the entire day.
Everyday the golf course turns greener and a new opening day gets closer. Joe is doing everything he can to hang on to the property, including taking a temporary side job to help pay the mortgage. “It makes for some long days,” says Joe, “but it’s what I have to do.”
The experience of Grand Island Day was incredible. It was the ultimate example of what a chapter can do to help its members. I am very proud of the way this membership responded. They dropped everything to be a part of this event and help Joe Hancock. I am so fortunate to be a member of the WMGCSA, and to call these wonderful people my friends.
Submitted by John Fulling, CGCS, WMGCSA President
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