If there is one word that can be said that describes a golf course superintendent, I would have to say it’s "resilient." Google defines it as "able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions." These last eighteen months have been a true testament to that, and a few superintendents come to my mind, which I would like to highlight in this blog.
We are all pretty much sick of hearing about the pandemic so I’m going to leave that as a given. Last year in Oregon, on top of the pandemic, weather events occurred that perhaps we would only see once in fifty to a hundred years. We just happened to have both in one year.
The Fall season was winding down and we were coming off of what was the most unexpected windfall of rounds played since the ’90s. It was Memorial Day weekend at Columbia Edgewater. Jim Myers, CGCS, was preparing for his second Cambia Portland Classic, an LPGA event that has had a fifty year history in Portland. The course was in perfect condition with just two weeks until play. Suddenly a low pressure set up east of Oregon came along, creating an east wind that blew to near hurricane proportions. The storm ignited fires up and down the Cascades causing mass destruction and smoke levels that gave Portland the worst air quality in the world.
There was no word of canceling or postponing the tournament so Jim had only one choice, and that was to keep going. The wind brought down trees and branches all over the course and the smoke also left the City of Portland in a dark shadow for days which created a perfect scenario for a disease outbreak. Many of Jim’s crew would not work, nor were expected to, in the heavy smoke, so he made respirators available to those that would come in and help. Sixteen-hour days were the norm and eventually, the course got cleaned up and sprayed wall to wall. By the time the tournament was set to begin, it almost looked like nothing had happened. The smoke cleared to a relatively safe condition, and the tournament went off without a hitch.
By December, Oregon’s wildfires
were eventually controlled leaving more than a million acres burned and at least 11 lives lost. Life was relatively back to normal. Golf courses were preparing for yet another great year, hoping to continue to ride the wave of play from the previous season. Then came February. Mother Nature decided to throw another curveball and delivered a winter storm that the Willamette Valley hadn’t seen in forty years. The greater Portland area saw 8 to 12 inches of snow, but those that lived south in Clackamas County and down to the Salem area saw an inch and a half of ice accumulate. Unfortunately, this included my home where I lost five large trees, four of which ended up on my home and the neighbor’s car. Hundred-year-old trees were falling like toothpicks, blocking roads and shutting down power to hundreds of thousands of homes. The county was declared a disaster area.
Western Oregon is known for its tall Douglas Firs, Garry Oaks, and big leaf maples, three trees that epitomize the dendrology at The Oregon Golf Club in West Linn. Russell Vandehey, CGCS, has been at the club for 26 of its 31-year history. I spent ten years there myself, five under John Anderson and five under Russell. During my time there we had our share of storms in the winter but only on occasion would lose a tree. We were always able to get things cleaned up in good time. This was different. Russell reports that he lost 40 trees, 15 Doug Firs, 15 Garry Oaks, and 10 maples. Countless trees were left standing but had significant damage that had to be dealt with. To this day (June 23) he is still picking up the pieces. Russell has had professional tree crews on-site, on and off since March, removing the trees, climbing the ones that didn’t fall and cleaning up the broken branches, and grinding the stumps. Russ reports that he still has about a month of work left to do.
I’m highlighting Jim and Russell for a reason. Both of these incredible superintendents are good friends but they are also going to be sharing the same LPGA event. Just this week the Cambia Portland Classic announced that they are changing venues. They will be leaving Columbia Edgewater, stating security concerns around the ongoing homeless situation in the neighborhood. It’s unfortunate, in that Jim had been assembling a top-notch crew from around the country, so to present what has traditionally been called one of the finest prepared venues in the LPGA Tour.
Russell is no stranger to big events. He hosted Peter Jacobsen’s Fred Meyer Challenge
while it was at The Oregon Golf Club. The only caveat is, Russell had over a year to prepare for each of those tournaments, not 90 days. This takes me back to my original statement, “golf course superintendents are resilient”. Russell will recover from this difficult situation and will present a challenging and beautiful golf course for the LPGA and its players. There is no doubt that he has his work cut out for him and his crew, I'm confident Russell will also get support from his peers during tournament week. I'm definitely planning on it!