year in South Florida the hurricane season brings anxious moments.
Forecasters predict moderate to severe storms, but a hurricane's
path and the extent of damage are unpredictable.
Hurricane Irene started in the
Gulf of Mexico last fall and was slow to organize. As days passed,
the storm reached the minimum winds of a Category 1 (75-94 mph)
hurricane and was located on the western side of the Florida Keys.
Having been through hurricane watches before, the residents
weren't overly concerned, especially because the top winds were
only 70-75 mph. Of course, Mother Nature has shown us many times
that you can't always trust forecasters' predictions.
In the storm's
On Thursday, Oct. 14, the
rains began in Palm Beach County. As with other hurricanes that
skirt Florida, the rains preceded the storm. Some storms bring
more rain than others. Hurricane Floyd, which had struck two weeks
earlier, brought very little rain -- in most areas less than an
inch. Irene, on the other hand, did not have severe winds, but it
was dumping serious rainfall.
By 4 p.m. Thursday, rain totals
were up to 5.75 inches. Friday morning brought more rain and
steadily increasing winds. After receiving another 1.75 inches,
The Falls Country Club in Lake Worth was soaked and, of course,
closed for play.
bunker rakes with front plows, two golf course employees at The
Falls CC worked four full days to get the flooded bunkers into
Because forecasters had predicted
the storm would take a path up the western side of the state, no
on-course preparations were needed or expected. The crew was sent
home to take care of their homes and families. Some people were
putting up shutters, but most were not.
By late Friday afternoon, Irene's
path had changed, moving sharply to the northeast. Winds were
still not very high, but the rains persisted. When I left the
course late Friday afternoon, we had accumulated another 1.85
inches of rain. Total rainfall from the past day and a half was
11.35 inches. All the rain gauges were emptied at that time.
The Falls CC has a single water
outfall structure that discharges into an adjoining canal. To
prepare for large amounts of rainfall, the structure is opened.
The canal's water level is controlled by the Lake Worth Drainage
District, which falls under the auspices of the South Florida
Water Management District. Both drainage districts anticipate
storms and start lowering water levels if enough rainfall is
expected, which was the case with Hurricane Irene. The normal lake
level is 16 feet. The staff gauge at our outfall structure showed
the water levels rising from the previous day's rainfall, and
water levels were certainly going to rise a lot higher as the
While following the storm's
progress at home, I realized that not only were we going to get a
lot of rain, but Irene was heading right for us. As midnight
approached, the storm track was dead on. Having been through
hurricanes of this strength before, I was not greatly concerned
about my house, but I was concerned about water levels and
Night passed, and power was lost
in many areas. Constant wind and rain hammered all areas within
20-30 miles of the eye of the storm. By morning Irene had passed,
and although winds were still 20-25 mph, the rains had stopped. It
was now time to assess the damage.
damage was extensive following the 70-mph winds of Hurricane
Irene. In the background, a pine tree has fallen, which is unusual
in Florida for any storm, says Stephen Pearson, CGCS at The Falls
Saturday, Oct. 16 was
certainly a day to remember. I arrived at the course at 8:30 a.m.,
and damage from the rain was evident. The entrance road to the
club was flooded, connecting the front-nine lakes to the back-nine
lakes. Even with my truck it was slow going down the entrance road
and the road to the maintenance facility.
A quick glance off the entrance
road revealed that the course had sustained considerable tree
damage. A lot of trees were down, and many had broken branches. Of
course there was a lot of debris, but that is not unusual when any
storm passes through because we have more than 3,000 palms and
The only way to begin assessing
the damage was to tour the course on one of our Honda four-wheel
ATVs. With camera in tow, I navigated most of the course. Some
areas were totally impassable. Our No. 16 island hole was truly an
island as more than a foot and a half of water covered the bridge
footers, and the decking was also underwater.
By afternoon the initial estimate
was 130 trees and palms down. The staff gauge at the outfall
structure read 19.8 feet. The rain gauges had overflowed at 6
inches. Based on my experience, I estimated we had received at
least 8 to 10 inches the night before. With the waterlogged
conditions and the damage from winds that had topped 70 mph, we
prepared ourselves for extensive cleanup and tree removal.
Sunday was spent cleaning up
debris that could be reached from golf car paths around the
We contacted the membership by
phone messages and mailings to let them know the facility would be
closed for at least a week. We didn't know how long it would take
for the water to go down and then to get the course back into
reasonable playing condition, so we decided one week was a
Because we are a private club with
stable finances, I was given the authority to seek extra help as
needed. I hired additional temporary laborers, as well as a tree
company that I had worked with before. The tree company would be
needed once drier conditions would allow the use of heavy
By Monday morning the lake levels
had subsided by 1 foot, and water was rapidly flowing out the
outfall structure. The drainage districts had their gates wide
open in an attempt to get the flooding down in nearby residential
areas. Power was being restored in various areas fairly quickly.
The clubhouse and maintenance facility got power back late
Saturday. As was the usual procedure for storms, all our
irrigation pumps, controllers and computers were shut down before
the storm hit.
30- to 40-foot black olive trees on the 18th fairway and driving
range fell victim to Hurricane Irene's winds.
The staff was back in full force
on Monday, and a plan was set to get the course ready for play.
Staff members were assigned specific duties, which varied in the
time and manpower needed.
bunker repair. Using
bunker rakes with front plows to push the sand back up, two staff
members worked eight hours each for four days to bring the bunkers
back into shape. Several areas where bunker lips had fallen would
have to be addressed later.
and removal. It took the
rest of the crew two full days to pick up debris on the course,
which did not include any tree work. All debris was stored in the
clubhouse parking lot and removed by an outside company. The
process took about six weeks because the debris removal company
was busy elsewhere.
Until Wednesday the water
had not subsided enough to even think of mowing a blade of grass.
We mowed the tees on Wednesday. The greens were up and elevated,
but there was no rush. On Thursday (eight days from the last time
the greens were cut), we started mowing with the height raised to
7/32 inches. Because the fairways had been sprayed with Primo a
couple of weeks before the storm, there was no hurry to mow them.
The roughs had been cut to a lower height than we normally mow in
the winter months, so they didn't need to be mowed either.
It was established from
the beginning that I would be the sole judge of whether a tree was
to be put back up or cut down. Most of the trees selected for
removal had shallow roots. Some were so badly damaged that it
wasn't practical to put them back up. During the first week after
the storm, we spent countless hours cutting the selected trees
into workable logs. All material was cut and stacked for later
removal. Tree stumps were left to be ground up. The course was
still too wet to allow trucks, so all work was done with
four-wheel vehicles and small utility vehicles.
By the end of the day Thursday we
knew that, barring any further rainfall, a Saturday opening would
be possible. We mowed the greens every day, and although the
ground was still too soft for trucks, it would be all right for
golf cars. The debris and the upheaval of sod and soil from the
trees would be obstructions players could live with for a while.
The tee through green areas were cleared and ready for play.
a total of 90 trees and palms had to be removed at The Falls CC,
another 40 were raised and staked.
We reopened on Saturday, Oct. 23.
This was the first real opportunity that members had to see the
damage firsthand. They were appreciative of our work and
understanding of the situation.
During the second week, we
brought in the tree company's personnel and heavy equipment,
including a large skid loader, a four-wheel-drive backhoe and the
largest portable stump grinder I had ever seen. This grinder could
reduce a 24-inch stump and the adjoining roots to sawdust in five
minutes. The stump grinder operator was very skilled and ground
out the stumps in two days.
Using the tree company's machines
and operators and our own skilled operators and front-end loader,
we were able to straighten and stake most trees and palms. We had
some problems with a few of the 30- to 40-foot black olive trees
that required severe pruning before we could raise and stake them.
We also had six large coconut palms and one Washingtonia palm that
needed several support stakes. In all, we cut down 90 trees and
palms, and 40 were raised and staked.
By the end of the second week, all
the trees were either put up or cut down. We started picking up
logs and debris from the trees during the second week and finished
in the third week. For two weeks we rented an additional stake
truck to help with the logs and debris. All areas where trees were
cut down were prepared for sod. Sodding took place in the third
By the end of the third week, most
of the large areas of damaged turf were sodded. One full trailer
(6,400 square feet) of Tifway 419 bermudagrass was used, but that
wasn't enough. Another half-trailer load was ordered two weeks
later to complete the sodding.
the areas where trees were cut down were sodded approvimately
three weeks after the storm. A full trailer (6,400 square feet) of
Tifway 419 bermudagrass was initially ordered, but the course
required another half-trailer to complete the job.
In addition to the turf and tree
repair, all the other usual maintenance jobs had to be
accomplished as well. We needed to plant our usual allotment of
8,000 winter annuals -- a task originally scheduled around the
time the storm approached. Our supplier was also hit hard by the
storm, so we didn't plant any flowers until the first week of
November. The delay worked out well for both of us. Before the
flowers were delivered, we had to prep all the beds with new
potting soil, which took time and labor. Perennial plants that had
drowned were pulled; the beds were prepped; and the plants
The damages and the additional
expenses incurred from hurricane recovery were probably mild
compared with some North Carolina courses. But from our club's
perspective, the damages were very expensive, reaching more than
$100,000 (see "Cleanup costs," p.136). Insurance will
pay for some of the damage, but a special assessment to the
membership will be necessary to cover the rest.
A month after the hurricane there
was little evidence of Irene's impact -- other than the staked
trees and a few golf holes that are more wide open. I decided to
postpone replacing trees and palms until the spring, and even then
we will change the locations and species of some trees. I plan to
use more palms and deeper-rooting trees when we start planting.
It is important to recognize and
thank my staff who worked so diligently. Club officials also
deserve kudos for their patience and cooperation in giving me the
latitude necessary to get the course back in shape. Recently
members have told me how great the course looks and expressed
their appreciation for a job well done.
Stephen M. Pearson is CGCS at
The Falls Country Club in Lake Worth, Fla., and a 19-year GCSAA