Florida Gulf Coast Golf Courses Return After Hurricane Ian

Downed trees and flooding are shown at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.

Despite all the heartbreaking images of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ian, Florida’s Gulf Coast golf courses seem to have held up surprisingly well. Most were operational in one form or another within a week of the storm’s arrival on September 28.

“We feel really lucky to have come out of this from a facilities perspective,” says Bruce Glasco, co-COO of management giant Troon Golf, whose 10-brand portfolio includes 725 courses worldwide. . Ten Troon-managed properties lie near Cape Coral, which bore the brunt of Ian’s onslaught.

“A lot of our employees weren’t so lucky,” he says. “Several associates have been displaced which is truly unfortunate, but to our knowledge we have not lost anyone to the storm.”

Given that at least 119 deaths have been attributed to Ian and countless homes and businesses have been destroyed, it may seem foolish to speculate on available tee times. But the fact is, golf operators’ ability to bounce back from the calamity will affect thousands in the state’s workforce. As many as 500 Florida courses were in Ian’s path, two-thirds of those in the Gulf Coast counties of Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier.

The last independent and comprehensive study of golf’s financial impact on Florida was released seven years ago, but it’s safe to say that more than 1,100 golf facilities generate more than $8 billion in revenue each year. and contribute to approximately 133,000 jobs, with collective revenues of nearly $4 billion. , to the state economy. There is no doubt that low-income people, such as course maintainers, restaurant staff and golf shop attendants paid by the hour, will suffer the most from Ian. In many cases, their ability to return to work has been impaired as they attempt to restart their lives, coping with the loss of homes, transportation or family members.

Ian landed on the barrier island of Cayo Costa, between Port Charlotte and Cape Coral, with sustained winds of 150 mph, just ahead of a Category 5 storm. Moving in a northeasterly track, it hit the coast from the Gulf of Florida from Sarasota to Naples with relentless rain and catastrophic storm surge. Among the first golf courses to feel Ian’s wrath were the Pete Dye layout of the historic Gasparilla Inn & Club on Gasparilla Island; the Tom Fazio-designed Coral Creek Club, just south of Port Charlotte; and the Sanctuary Golf Club on Sanibel Island, which became disconnected from the mainland when the Sanibel Causeway was breached in five places. Not surprisingly, attempts to reach these facilities for comment failed; the Gasparilla Inn & Club posted a notice on its website, saying the resort “has sustained significant damage” and will be closed until further notice.

As it headed inland toward Orlando, Ian was downgraded to a tropical storm, which brought its own destruction in the form of biblical rains. Streamsong Resort, the highly rated 54-hole resort with courses laid out by Tom Doak, Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw and Gil Hanse, which was built on a reclaimed phosphate mine in sparsely populated Hardee County, has managed to dry out in time for a reopening on October 5. The central Florida community of Lake Wales, home to Mountain Lake, a very famous design by Seth Raynor circa 1917, reported 17 inches of rain in 24 hours.

On the hard-hit Gulf Coast, the obstacles to reopening are many. Courses were covered with debris from nearby damaged homes and businesses, as well as uprooted trees and fallen branches. Pavilions and maintenance facilities were flooded and sustained wind damage. The bunkers were taken away. Properties have gone days without power. In one case, a course superintendent discovered that 400 gallons of gasoline had been stolen from his maintenance area.

Trees fell after Hurricane Ian at the Burnt Store Marina Country Club in Punta Gorda, Florida.

Fallen trees and debris were plentiful at the Burnt Store Marina Country Club in Punta Gorda, Florida.

The storm surge briefly overwhelmed some networks; to remedy the damaging effects of salt water that permeates turf, these yards must be saturated and flushed with fresh water via irrigation systems – a process similar to rinsing dish soap from a giant sponge. (This treatment is not necessary if the turf is paspalum, a variety of grass genetically modified to tolerate salt water.)

Some municipalities have implemented boil-only restrictions, which have limited water use. Pavilions that have been flooded face exposure to so-called “Class III” waters, which may contain dangerous levels of pollutants or toxins. These buildings must be inspected and assessed by hygienists, which usually results in the mandatory removal of porous surfaces such as carpets or drywall that have been touched by Class III water.

As for the Troon facilities, “we have less than half a dozen that are not operational to some degree,” says Glasco. “As for those who have suffered the most, we still do not have a deadline for them to come back online. And they are all in the Cape Coral area.

A flooded golf cart tunnel is shown at the Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.

A flooded golf cart tunnel is shown at the Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida.

Among them is the Cape Royal Golf Club, which Glasco says “has been hit hard”. A pumping station was disabled; there was extensive damage to trees and the pavilion. “We have work to do there,” he said.

Del Tura Golf Club also “took the chin, very similar to Cape Royal,” says Glasco. “They have prolonged problems. Three employees lost their homes, complete losses.

Given the circumstances, Glasco says, there was no rush to restart operations.

“We are taking a little longer, and many clubs have agreed to work with us as we bring people back after their lives have been disrupted,” he says. “There is no doubt that we have difficulties with the staff. We have people who have lost their cars, families who have lost their homes. It’s quite tragic. We are incredibly lucky, looking at the photos, not to have lost a life, considering the damage. »

As for the classes that have reopened, is anyone playing?

“That’s a great question,” says Glasco. “To be honest, it shows you where our focus is. I haven’t asked anyone for any rounds played last week. We’re just focusing on what we can do to help our associates. But we’re happy that golf courses can be open and available I don’t want to pretend that we are not commercial in our thinking, but we are really focused on the other elements of the operation.

For now, at least. Before long, Glasco acknowledged, golf operators in Southwest Florida must redirect their efforts to restoring games played — or face the long-term consequences.

“We are part of those communities,” he says. “And many of those communities have been decimated. We can’t help wondering, and frankly having a certain fear, about people’s ability to rebuild themselves. I can’t help but be concerned not only about our business, but also about the economic engine of the local community and how it is getting back on its feet.

“I look forward to the day when the first thing I look at on my computer is tee sheets and game levels, not updates on repairs or cleaning or how we respond to employees in the need.”

Michael C. Ford