Are You Prepared?

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

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When Hurricane Barry made landfall on the Louisiana coast last month, I was reminded of my first encounter with a natural disaster as a golf course superintendent. We are still a month away from the peak of hurricane season, and the past few years have seen some major storm damage along the coasts of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas.

Over the course of my career, I’ve endured one hurricane and multiple tropical storms. I am by no means an expert on how to handle these situations, and, quite frankly, each occurrence I’ve considered the results to be fortunate compared to what might have been. But I do think there is a shred of truth to making your own luck. And, if I learned one thing in my youth as a Cub Scout, it was be prepared.

In 2003, I was responsible for the Bob Cupp-designed Swan Point Yacht & Country Club on the banks of the Potomac River in Issue, Md. Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians in Castlewood, Va., I can attest I wasn’t familiar with the power of such storms. Still, I occasionally look back and recall how we prepared for Hurricane Isabel’s arrival when faced with similar adversity.

A year ago, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the North Carolina coast, then turned herself around and headed for Charlotte. By the time the storm made it this far inland, she was downgraded to a tropical storm, but I prepared for the storm and its potential impacts like it was still a hurricane. We were about to co-host the 2018 U.S. Mid-Am Championship and important decisions had to be made – quickly.

Tropical storms and hurricanes are no strangers to the Carolina coastlines. As a result, the Carolinas GCSA has information readily available on our website. You will find two links, one titled HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS and the other Hurricane Prep List, located in the center near the bottom of our homepage.

HURRICANE PREPAREDNESS contains information regarding evacuation routes, links to FEMA, the Small Business Administration and GCSAA’s Disaster Relief Fund. There is also a wonderful compilation of turf management tips from Clemson and NC State professors to assist you with turf and pest issues you may encounter once the storm has passed.

Hurricane Prep List is a collection of things to do before, during and after the storm to help you and your course survive the elements to the best of your ability. It includes everything from readying your chainsaws to making sure you empty the breakroom fridge prior to the storm’s arrival.

When Hurricane Isabel approached in 2003, this first-timer made sure of three things:

  1. I remained calm. Although I was nervous and anxious about what may happen, I made sure to do my best to not outwardly show anxiety to my team. Your team looks to you to gauge the situation, and if you’re anxious they will sense and emulate your feelings.
  2. We prepared for the worst. We removed everything loose from the golf course (trash receptacles, flagsticks, benches, etc.), topped off every piece of equipment with fuel, stockpiled fuel in containers, sharpened all chainsaws and moved them to a safe place.
  3. We hoped for the best. Once we felt the course was ready, I sent everyone home so they could prepare. Although it’s important to prepare the golf course, equipment, turf care center and other parts of your operation for what’s about to happen, it’s more important to provide your crew the opportunity to do the same for their homes and families.

Last year, as Tropical Storm Florence approached the Queen City, my team immediately sprang into action, applying plant growth regulator to greens, tees and fairways, and topdressing greens. Our biggest concern with Florence was the amount of potential rain prior to our major championship.

I’ve heard before you can’t control a golf course, but you can encourage it. Our efforts and inputs were all about encouraging the golf course to come out the back end of the storm in the best possible condition. I dismissed everyone prior to the storm so they could arrive home safely and prepare things at home.

I’m always heartbroken when I see the impacts and damages experienced by my peers in these situations. Sometimes even the best of preparations cannot overcome the power of Mother Nature. But the resiliency of mankind, and especially golf course superintendents, always shines like a beacon in the night in these situations. It’s inspiring to see what we can overcome.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C., and President of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.