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October 21, 2020

Alabama Gulf Coast Golf Courses Assess Hurricane Damage

Gulf Coast Golf Course damage from Hurricane Sally

Kiva Dunes Hardest Hit, Remains Closed

Craft Farms, Peninsula Closed, Possibly Until December

A month after Hurricane Sally made landfall in Gulf Shores, golf courses along Alabama Gulf Coast are still assessing the damage and working to reopen.

Here’s a quick update on the damage and the status of some of the courses:

  • Kiva Dunes Golf Course, flooded by as much as 30 inches of rain, remains closed.
  • Timber Creek Golf Club in Daphne, which lost 200 trees, was largely spared and all 27 holes are open.
  • Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear, which lost 319 trees, has reopened its two courses.
  • Gulf Shores Golf Course lost 200 trees but has reopened.
  • Glenlakes Golf Course, a 27-hole layout in Foley, has 18 holes open and expects to open up its third nine, the Lake Course, shortly.
  • Craft Farms Golf Course and Peninsula Golf & Racquet Club in Gulf Shores may stay closed until December.

Just two weeks after Sally barreled through,  a shiver of deja vu ran through Alabama Gulf Coast golf communities as Hurricane Delta formed. Early projections had it following the same path Sally had taken, but the threat dissipated when the storm took a westward shift into already hard-hit Louisiana.

Along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Sally’s destruction was delivered via high winds, storm surge and, in many places, 20to 30 inches of rainfall dumped on golf courses that are barely above sea level.

Kiva Dunes Hardest Hit of the Alabama Gulf Coast Golf Courses

One of the state’s top golf destinations, Kiva Dunes in Gulf Shores, along Fort Morgan Road, was among the courses hardest hit by the storm. Crews continue to work to get the course ready to reopen, although when the course will be ready for play again is not currently known.

“I’ve been at Kiva for 25 years now and it’s by far the worst we’ve ever had to deal with. It’s far more water and damage than what we saw with [Hurricane] Ivan 16 years ago,’’ Kiva Dunes General Manager and Director of Golf Mark Stillings said.

“The worst of our problem was standing water. I don’t know that anybody knows exactly what the final rainfall count was, but we’re estimating somewhere around 30 inches of rain. And you’ve got basically a flat piece of property, so the water was just trapped, there was nowhere for it to go. So it was two or three days before the general water table in the area moved down so we could even move effectively on the property.

70 Percent of Kiva Dunes Was Under Water

“I would say that early on, about 70 percent of the in-play grassy areas were under water. We were still trying to get water off the property as late as last week. We’re still closed. The standing water was a big issue, and once we got to the point where we could start to see grass again, we started to assess things and identify [downed] trees that were causing problems with access and things like that.

“Probably the last two to three weeks we’ve been dealing with trees, chopping them up and hauling them off. We suffered a lot of irrigation-related damage to irrigation boxes and we’ve had to go through all of them, one by one, to check the electronics of those.

“Probably the biggest of our issues is we had several bridges that lifted up off the pilings. In some cases, we are able to work them back into place and they are settling back in; and others they actually got lifted and twisted and we couldn’t get them lined back up with the bridge pilings and cart path, so we’re having to replace or repair some bridges.’’

Stillings said the clubhouse suffered substantial damage. Most all the standing water is off the property now and crews are starting to repair infrastructure — bridges, cart paths, the irrigation system. The lost tree count at KIva Dunes ranges between 200-300, he said.

Assessing Damage to One of the Top Alabama Gulf Coast Golf Courses

Stillings said a repair priority is anything that is potentially touching or affecting the in-play areas. Keeping the grass alive and thriving tops the list, and that requires flushing out impurities and salt from the turfed areas, then getting back to mowing grass. Dealing with dead grass and weeds are also on the to-do list.

“You basically have to go hole by hole until you’ve tackled them all,’’ Stillings said. “It’s a very methodical, systematic way that we have approached it, and most of that input has come from our superintendent.’’

Kiva Dunes won’t be ready for golfers until sometime in November at the earliest, Stillings said, though he didn’t offer a date. He noted it is expensive to have the course closed, but his crews’ focus is getting it back in order and ensuring a safe environment for guests.

“We’re trying to expedite things and we’re hoping to be able to open sometime in November, but probably still with some challenges,’’ he said.

“We still have a couple of bridges that have to be rebuilt, so we may have to route golfers in a different direction if you can’t cross over on a bridge, or maybe play a different combination of holes or play the front twice. We’re trying to work through all that. We don’t want to open too early and possibly have a safety issue with a fallen tree or fallen limbs, so we have to make sure we have all that tackled before we open and take it from there.

“We’ll be back, it’s just going to take some time. I’ll say this, it looks a heck of a lot better than it did a month ago.’’

Daphne Alabama Golf Course Timber Creek Largely Unscathed

Timber Creek Golf Course in Daphne, another Alabama Golf Coast golf course on Mobile Bay, was not damaged as much as some other courses in the area. Sally’s late right turn toward the Florida panhandle spared the area from the brunt of the storm’s force.

“We had some minor roof damage and a little bit of water come into the clubhouse, and we had about 200 trees go down and we had some cart path damage as a result of that, and some minor bridge damage,” said Rob Bradley, owner of the 27-hole facility.

“The good news is we have the entire facility opened and cleaned up. We were only closed for one week. On my gosh, that was really good,” he said.

“I guess I’m fortunate in something that you don’t want to be fortunate in, but I’ve had a lot of experience with this. I lived 27 years in Louisiana and I worked at nine different golf courses and I learned the ins and outs of what to do first, what to do second, what to do third. If you do certain things in certain orders and in certain ways, the macro-picture takes care of itself quicker than if you didn’t have that experience.”

Today, with all three nine-hole layouts available for play, Bradley said his course is getting back to normal, or at least what passes for normalcy in these COVID-19 times.

“All 27 holes were opened within a week,’’ he said. “It’s actually beautiful. It turned florescent green. The grass really responded well to the storm. I look at it as a positive. The 200 trees we lost were not in primary playing areas, so they didn’t disrupt the integrity of any of the holes,” he said.

Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear Alabama Lost 319 Trees

At Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear, which is associated with The Grand Hotel and part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, Director of Golf Niall Fraser said a lot of work went into getting the property’s two courses, Azalea and Dogwood, open again.

“We had a big game of pick-up sticks, it’s just that some sticks are bigger than others,’’ Fraser said. “We ended up with 319 trees down and we don’t have any small trees. We will be pruning trees and touching up areas probably over the next couple of weeks, just traveling the cart paths and rough areas that are in play, touching those up and making sure all the trees are healthy.’’

Dogwood’s back nine reopened first, followed a week later by the front nine. Later, parts of Azalea were reopened and then the course, which had recently reopened after a renovation, was completely opened – all within approximately a two-week span.

‘Big Ol’ Trees’ Down at Lakewood Golf Club in Point Clear Alabama

“The big thing was not just the big ol’ trees, but the million sticks and branches down everywhere,” Fraser said. “It was a lot of hand-raking and picking up. We just went at it. We have a mountain of debris, I mean some big trees that were down.”

One interesting twist from the storm came in the form of a tournament and some member play in which the layout for the event followed the course’s original rotation of holes from when it was built in 1947 — holes 1-5 and then 15-18 on Azalea and the back nine on Dogwood.

“That was a real treat for everybody,’’ Fraser said. “To play the original golf course from 1947. … The shaping has changed, but it was awesome and people got to do something different and they played a course they’ve really never played.

“We got it back open as fast as we could. That’s key, to keep golf going. A lot of people were dealing with their yards and their own properties but, boy, they came out and used golf as that relief.’’

Fallen Trees Formed a Roadblock on the Road to the Course

Perhaps the biggest roadblock to reopening was, in fact, a roadblock. More than 20 trees fell on and around the small, scenic road that winds its way to the Lakewood clubhouse. Getting to the course to assess the damage took some effort.

“You couldn’t even get into the property. It took a day and a half to cut our way into the property because 21 trees were down on the entrance road to the golf course,’’ Fraser said.

“The hotel didn’t lose any trees at all, but we had 21 monsters come down on the entrance road and we had to cut our way in before we could get equipment in here.”

Cheryl McAdams, general manager of another Alabama Gulf Coast golf course, Gulf Shores Golf Course, said when she was able to get to the course the day after Sally made her way through town, she was shocked at what she saw. Later, she realized the damage at her course, while substantial, could have been worse.

“We had probably a little over 200 trees down and our clean-up has gone really well,’’ she said. “We just recently reopened. … It was devastating when you first saw [the damage] because there were trees down everywhere. But we have come a long way. It looks beautiful now. It was really terrible.

“I thought we were hit the hardest until I heard about everybody else and I realized it could have been much, much worse. We had very minor damage in the clubhouse and we worked hard to get the course back open again.’’

GlenLakes Golf Course in Foley Alabama to Reopen Third Nine This Weekend

GlenLakes Golf Course, a 27-hole layout in Foley, is expected to reopen the third of its nines, the Lakes Course, which sustained the most damage from Sally. Head Golf Professional David Musial said the first nine holes [the Vista Course] were reopened fairly quickly along with the practice range, followed by another nine [the Dunes Course].

“We have a new bridge that’s going up on our Lakes course, and that’s what I have been consumed with,’’ Musial said.

“We lost 352 trees. On the Dunes course, we had quite a few that were trees on the course property that went into homes. It’s been quite challenging. All the sand in 102 bunkers needs to be replaced; it washed out of all of them. We recorded on the property 18 and half inches of rainfall. In the clubhouse, the carpet has to all be replaced. We had water damage there, but we’re making good progress on it. It’s coming along.”

Checking out the course the day after the storm proved eye-opening, Musial said.

“That Wednesday morning when the winds came in so hard and the trees started snapping, our superintendent and me rode the course the next day and figured the Vista course would be the easiest course to open because, on the other two courses, the trees were just so massive we couldn’t even get on the other two courses because the trees were blocking us so badly,” he said.

“We had it open the following week. We worked real hard to get it open. We only had nine holes open but that wasn’t bad, considering.’’

Sally Disrupted a Booming Summer Golf Season Along the Alabama Gulf Coast

Musial said although COVID-19 cut into the number of rounds played in the early spring, the summer saw an explosion in rounds played in alabama Gulf Coast golf communities. That is, until Sally came for a visit.

“I think everybody was probably down in terms of play here in April because the beaches were closed,’’ he said. “But then things had picked back up and in May, June, July and August, golf play was up 25 percent from the previous year. It was really going strong.”

Now courses in the area are looking to recover that momentum. But first they must rebuild, some more than others.

“Craft Farms and Peninsula, it looks like neither one of them will open up again until maybe December, so we feel real fortunate,” Musial said.

“They were really hit hard. Craft Farms had something like 1,200 trees down. We were devastated [about the damage at GlenLakes], and then I talked to them down there. It’s unreal. The size of these trees is something else. The roots of the trees are taller than me. It was devastating for sure, but we’ll snap back.’’

By Alabama Golf News contributor Tommy Hicks

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Featured image: GlenLakes Head Professional David Musial stands next to one of the massive trees that was toppled by Hurricane Sally. Photo courtesy of David Musial

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