Game change

GCSAA’s field staff representative for the Northeast region follows a trail of destruction in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with stops on hard-hit Long Island, N.Y., and coastal Connecticut.

Basic marker buoys registered swells at 29 feet in Long Island Sound just before landfall of Hurricane Sandy and ended up at Middle Bay CC in Oceanside, N.Y.
Photos by Kevin Doyle

Kevin F. Doyle
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Editor's note: The following is an abbreviated version of reports filed by Kevin Doyle, GCSAA’s Northeast field staff representative, following his visits to golf courses impacted by Hurricane Sandy in late October. To follow along as Doyle made his way up and down the eastern seaboard and to view more photos, go to his Twitter feed: @GCSAA_NE.

On Friday, Oct. 26, GCSAA distributed an email entitled “Hurricane Preparedness Information” regarding GCSAA resources for superintendents who incur personal loss and links to websites with turf management tips. This information was timely, as Hurricane Sandy was slowly moving along the eastern seaboard with the national media covering every move it made. It took its time, followed the path forecasters predicted, and hit with an intensity beyond most others.

Long Island, N.Y., ... was a victim of Sandy’s fury, with widespread tree damage and massive flooding paralyzing the area even weeks after the storm.

The size and strength of the storm were statistically unprecedented. Near-record size, record low barometric pressure at 940 millibars and record storm surge lashed the coast. The storm was predicted to remain strong well inland, adding flooding, high snow totals and wind damage into the interior parts of the country. Hurricane Sandy did what few storms had done before: It lived up to the hype, and that was not good.

My personal residence in New Hampshire weathered the storm just fine. Lucky enough to retain power, I was awestruck by the images of the storm’s aftermath in New Jersey and New York. My concern gravitated to GCSAA members in my region. Were they safe? How badly were their facilities affected? There is no field staff protocol for an event such as this, but I had to know what was happening in the field.

I began a trip that would last over seven days, cover five states and include 16 individual member visits. I would see hard-hit courses whose superintendents considered themselves lucky. I would visit courses to see sheer devastation and hear stories of unspeakable personal loss. I wanted to reach out to my region to be sure everyone was safe, that their staff members were unharmed. To let them know that their association cares, as do their colleagues across the country. To get information to the industry, to let them know how the facilities survived the storm and how their personal world has changed.

Uprooted, under water

One of the hardest-hit areas is also among the most condensed areas for golf courses in the nation: Long Island, N.Y. The largely unprotected island was a victim of Sandy’s fury, with widespread tree damage and massive flooding paralyzing the area even weeks after the storm. Our members and their facilities were no exception.

My first stop was Inwood Country Club, located on the southwestern tip of Long Island, tucked between Rockaway Beach and John F. Kennedy Airport. Kevin Stanya, the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Inwood and a 16-year association member, had described the devastation to me in a phone conversation, but I was still not prepared for what I was to see and hear. The maintenance facility was flooded by just under 5 feet of ocean water. All of his equipment was completely ruined. The office building that also housed staff quarters was completely flooded. Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 brought about 6 inches of water into the shop, so this time the staff filled the utility vehicle beds with all the items that would fit. They thought 3 to 4 feet off the ground should be more than safe; it was not even close.

Nick Brodziak, superintendent at Rockaway Hunting Club, found a boat deposited on his 15th fairway following Hurricane Sandy.

The devastation on the course matches that of the shop area: trees uprooted, debris from as far away as 1 to 2 miles left behind, and saltwater covering the entire course. Staff had been seasonally adjusted, with many foreign workers paying extra to advance their flights to days or even hours before Sandy came ashore.

That is just the situation at the course. Stanya and his fiancée were forced to evacuate their home in Long Beach, N.Y., as flooding was beginning to overtake that area. They placed as many of their belongings as high up as they could, only to find the water level nearly reached the ceiling of their one-story home.

“We left the attic stairs open for my three cats, and don’t you know, that’s where we found them when we came back — in the attic. They are so traumatized they won’t even come close to us,” says Stanya. “The water flooded the homes around the course too; six blocks away got water damage.”

“In nearly 30 years here I’ve never seen anything even close to this.”
— Nicholas Brodziak

He is staying at his mother’s home, wearing clothes that were still stored there from years ago. Stanya credits Storr Tractor for bringing some equipment to him to use. “We haven’t really begun the cleanup. I’ve been in a funk personally, and the insurance needed to be brought in before anything could really take place,” he says. “Now that Storr has gotten me some equipment, we can start the long road back … they’ve been awesome.”

Onto higher ground

The Woodmere Club and 13-year GCSAA member Timothy Benedict, CGCS, was my next stop. Located just a few miles east of Inwood, the maintenance facility at Woodmere also sustained massive flood damage. I was unable to speak with Benedict, as he was off property dealing with personal issues. I was to find out from Benedict’s colleagues that he lives in an area devastated by flooding, and that his home was severely impacted by the damage as well. His equipment was ruined by Irene last year, and as a preventive measure, it was moved to the highest point on the property this year. It was a move that saved his equipment.

Neighboring Rockaway Hunting Club’s Nicholas Brodziak, a GCSAA Class A superintendent and 30-year member, was not left unscathed either. While his maintenance facility was out of harm’s way, the ocean and wind have provided him with a tremendous amount of cleanup as well. The facility completely lost the shooting amenities, including a lounge building approximately 20 feet by 30 feet that was removed from the foundation and deposited close to 100 feet on the 18th fairway. This area hasn’t seen damage like this since the Long Island Express (Hurricane) in 1938.

“In nearly 30 years here I’ve never seen anything even close to this,” says Brodziak. The staff modified a bunker rake, adding small 12-inch forks to the front of the plow attachment for debris removal.

Debris fills the front of the maintenance facility at The Woodmere Club, which sustained serious damage during the storm.

Maximum impact

Seventeen-year GCSAA member Michael Benz at Middle Bay Country Club in Oceanside is dealing with less debris from Sandy than he did with Irene last year. So was the impact less? Absolutely not. Benz explains: “The water was so much higher this year it took all the debris to the fence that lines the course or into the neighborhood beyond it. The water was eight blocks up the street.”

The ocean rose to the windows of the clubhouse, where it forced its way in, through the building and out the other side, taking a lot of the contents with it.

All 18 holes were completely under water, states Benz. An intricate sump-pump system and drainage were installed in low areas on the course after Irene created standing ocean water and substantial turf loss last year.

“That worked great,” said Benz pointing to the drainage as we drove by. “It did exactly what it was supposed to do.” Recent verti-drain procedures on the greens, in addition to the slowing of the plant metabolism at this time of year have Benz in a positive frame of mind when it comes to turf recovery. “I think we’ll do OK; it’ll come back fine,” Benz says with a hopeful smile.

Meadow Brook Club, and 31-year GCSAA member John Carlone, CGCS, found being inland from coastal damage to be the same, yet different.

“We have about 450 trees on the property that have been uprooted, snapped or damaged,” states Carlone, scrolling through pictures on his computer.

During my visit, Carlone had identical new chain saws delivered by two different companies. Again, the same, yet different; the price from one retailer was more than $200 higher per saw than the other company’s. “Can you imagine this — price gouging now when it is so bad for everyone?” exclaimed Carlone. Most greens, tees and fairways escaped the massive number of fallen trees without much damage. “We are so lucky. Some just missed tees, fell left instead of right and onto greens. We are lucky, no doubt about it.”

The 'lucky ones'

The coast of Connecticut was greatly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. (A side note on the phrase “Hurricane Sandy”: Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy had an affidavit signed by FEMA stating the storm had been downgraded to “tropical” status when landfall in Connecticut took place. This single move avoids hurricane deductibles from being implemented in insurance claims.) A quick refresher of geography largely explains why, as the coastline faces nearly due south. This put the shoreline at close to a right angle of impact from the tidal surge and general wind patterns from the storm.

An uprooted tree has changed the view of the first tee at Inwood CC forever.

This was no glancing blow. As with the rest of the region, higher-than-normal lunar tides were also a key component to the damage done to shoreline facilities. All of these facilities have had experience with storm damage recently. Just over a year ago, Hurricane Irene visited Connecticut, showing the power and destruction Mother Nature can cause. The following examples will show the magnitude of Sandy versus 2011 and Irene. Fortunately, the staffs at all facilities visited were safe.

Neil Laufenberg, the GCSAA Class A superintendent and 17-year association member at Innis Arden Golf Club in Old Greenwich, Conn., put into practice his knowledge of storm management. His facility has a series of freshwater ponds that allowed him to flood the lower portion of his facility with fresh water before the sea moved in. It was helpful, but not nearly enough to battle the magnitude of Sandy. His lower pump house (no longer his main irrigation option since Irene) was inundated with seawater flooding. Three facility-owned homes, housing some employees, were evacuated and incurred flood damage. There was also some tree damage, but Laufenberg was quick to state, “Add me to the list of lucky ones.”

GCSAA has established a fund to assist members who have suffered hurricane-related losses. Learn more about how to donate.

Superintendent Shannon Slevin, the 13-year GCSAA member and Class A superintendent at Shorehaven Golf Club in East Norwalk, Conn., would like himself added to the list of “lucky” superintendents, although it takes a good conversation to find out why. His inventory list of equipment has increased due to items washed up from other properties, while his tree inventory took a substantial blow. Add to Slevin’s damage and debris several holes inundated with saltwater, and there is a lot of work ahead at Shorehaven. So why does Slevin consider himself lucky? “Most of the trees that came down were on my wish list,” he states with a sly smile. In addition, he adds that his infrastructure didn’t take any damage. The maintenance facility, equipment and irrigation system all came through without harm.

A brief stop to visit David Koziol, a 14-year GCSAA member, found the Country Club of Fairfield (Conn.) undertaking “typical” storm repairs: seawall reconstruction and saltwater flushing. Eleven complete holes and parts of most of the others were under water as a tidal surge forced water completely across the course.

“Even at times of unusually high tides, you can drive along the seawall in a cart and see the ocean at eye level. That’s what happens when parts of your course can end up below sea level even without a storm,” explains Koziol.

Conclusion

I wish I could have touched base with every location affected by Hurricane Sandy, but obviously that would be impossible. Places that were hardest hit made travel difficult and even unsafe, therefore their stories remain to be told. But those stories, when we hear them, will be filled with ingenious inventions, unique uses of resources and a steadfast resolve to rebuild lives and facilities even better than before — just like the stories of the 16 members I visited.

Kevin F. Doyle (kdoyle@gcsaa.org) became GCSAA’s Northeast region field staff representative in March following nearly 10 years as the GCSAA Class A superintendent at Londonderry Country Club in Milford, N.H.