Hurricanes – Courses May Help

Hurricanes Dump Trillion of Gallons on Golf Courses

What a devastating year it has been in the southern United States and as far out as Puerto Rico. Marveling at the power of nature as shown on a PBS documentary this evening, I wondered how in the world any golf course could survive the kind of juggernaut hurricanes that ran through and over Houston, southern Florida, and Puerto Rico in 2017. I was also reminded how much of those flat plains that make up low-lying coastal land have had their ancestral make-up covered over by pavement, impervious surfaces – no pores, no absorption. The hurricane that hit Houston, Harvey, dumped a trillion gallons of water on the city and smaller communities. Of the 200 courses in Houston, all were affected in some way, and for some, it wasn’t their first time. The Clubs of Kingwood, where Tin Cup was filmed, took a year to bounce back. Some reopened in weeks, some in months, and some never again. Stacy Lewis and her husband, women’s golf coach at the University of Houston, held down the fort through the frighteningly destructive experience. Galveston,Montgomery, and other towns fared no better. Bear Creek, according to reports at the time, was erased. With a high water table and a flat plain, the water had nowhere to go. What little absorption is left in the area was taken up by bayous, streams, and in some cases golf courses.

Hurricane Irma dropped 15 inches on courses of Southern Florida. That ground was already saturated, and remained standing for an extended period.  Many pines were damaged, and even though they remained standing, will continue to decline. Renovations at a dozen Naples courses were interrupted, and extended loss of power in the region caused serious injury to turf. Courses like Quail Creek in Naples began preparations for Irma early, pulling out flagsticks and anything else that could become airborne. The course has well over one hundred workers, and the clubhouse was well-shuttered in activities that began over two days and nights before Irma’s arrival. She left 150 billion dollars in damage, and the 90 courses of Naples represent a large chunk of the region’s economy. Most will recover.  As in Houston, an extra danger presented itself, as every manner of virus, bacteria, and dangerous creature relocated inland against its will, and will remain in the environment for a long time.
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With great curiosity, I typed Hurricane Maria golf courses into the search bar. I know there are some beautiful courses on the island, in various states of destruction, but even such a specific group of search words produced absolutely nothing. Houston and surrounding communities were brutalized by Harvey. Southern Florida battered Florida all the way up the state, causing enormous floods in Jacksonville, and unsettled weather into Tennessee. Hurricane Maria, due to Puerto Rico’s vulnerable location and sparse supplies and manpower with which to protect itself, wiped out an entire island nation. If I had been present, and asked someone about the golf courses, I might have gotten a blank look in return. Golf may be crucial to Puerto Rico’s rebuilding as a resort activity, so I am certain that things are being done to save the industry, but Maria, among the most savage hurricanes recorded, took everything, and that’s going to take a little longer.

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More of these monsters are coming. We have now poured our factory gases into the atmosphere for over a century. Our cars have run for the same amount of time. The sea is warmer, and higher. Believe in climate change or not, as you wish, but we will have some of our future debates in far more perilous conditions than we encounter now as the hurricanes continue to rise out of the warmer sea. For those who have criticized golf for various reasons, remember that a golf course is not a bad thing to have when you need to absorb some water, and regain some mental health by playing a game invented for an environment of serenity.

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