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Six months ago, Santa brought an unexpected (and unwanted) present to Blowing Rock (N.C.) Country Club. An 18-degree Christmas Eve was gift-wrapped with 80 mph winds. We woke Christmas morning to find more than 20 white pines uprooted, and, seemingly, countless others with the tops snapped out of them.
The damage was worse than when Hurricane Hugo paid his visit to the course in the late 1980s. Pines ranging from 2 feet to more than 5 feet in diameter had been violently slammed to the ground.
We spent the next three weeks bearing chainsaws by day and scrubbing off pine resin by night. Although the entire course sustained damage, our first and 15th greens were the worst hit. Two white pines more than 30 inches in diameter fell on the No. 15 green. The oldest tree on our property, more than 5 feet thick, crashed onto our No. 1 green. The sheer weight of these trees drove the limbs deep into the ground.
After a combined effort with a local tree service, the majority of debris was removed, with the exception of limbs that were embedded too deeply in the ground to be pulled out by hand. Superintendent Benjamin Barnes, a nine-year GCSAA member, and I discussed using our skid-steer loader to pull out the remaining branches. We planned to lay plywood out on the turf, attach a chain to the limbs, and pull them out with the forks of the machine. However, the ground was frozen solid, so we decided to wait until things thawed out a little more.
During this time, I began to think that there must be a better way to remove the limbs. Besides being labor intensive, we risked damaging the greens even more by using the loader. Anyone who has operated a skid-steer loader knows that the hydraulics are not made for delicate operations. I could imagine our greens being ripped up the entire length of the limbs buried beneath the turf.
What we needed was a way to remove the branches very slowly from the ground. That's when I thought about our portable, 2-ton floor jack. I figured if it would lift one end of a car, it would certainly pull out a few dozen pine limbs from the ground. In addition, the removal of the branches would be much more controlled.
After discussing the plan with Barnes, William Robinson, one of our crew members, and I loaded up the jack, a piece of 1/2-inch plywood and several feet of nylon rope. When we arrived at the green, we laid the plywood next to one of the smaller limbs. After tying the rope to both the limb and the jack, Robinson began to work the jack handle. Just as I had hoped, the branch began to inch out of the ground. In no time we had removed several limbs. However, when we got to the larger limbs we ran into some difficulties. There was so much suction on the branches that the ropes began to break. After several attempts, we ended up using a chain for our extractions. Though it was a little more awkward than using the rope, we still managed to remove all of the limbs from the greens in one afternoon. The branches ranged from 2 inches up to 6 inches in diameter, and some were buried more than 4 feet deep in the greens. A bonus I had not considered was that not only could we remove the limbs slowly, but we were able to extract them from the same angle they had entered the ground. This left only the holes to be filled and tamped and the sod to be patched at the point of entry.
By spring the greens were knitted over and all evidence of St. Nick's surprise visit was gone.