The winds and the water from Hurricane Sandy had an impact on the East Coast well before the storm arrived. It will be months before the damage is rectified. The lasting effect of the largest hurricane on record, though, will be visible for as long as it takes immature trees to reach the stately size of the thousands that succumbed to wind and water.
Eleven holes at Rumson Country Club had a significant amount of salt water on them, and eight greens were affected to varying degrees.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF RUMSON CC
What the final toll is on golf courses will probably not be determined until the first real flush of growth in the spring of 2013. Superintendents who are dealing with the aftermath of Sandy's fury say that it looks as if, at least as turf damage goes, the cost will not be as high as what Hurricane Irene exacted in 2011. That storm hit in August, Sandy made landfall in October.
"We're getting there," said Bill Morton, director of golf course operations at the Misquamicut Club in Westerly, R.I. "Stuff that was really sorry looking is showing signs of being OK in a lot of places."
Eight holes at Misquamicut's back nine are on the water. At the peak of the flooding, the portions of tees, greens and fairways that remained above the advancing ocean looked like a chain of small islands.
When Irene came ashore, Misquamicut was only affected by the winds since it made landfall well to the west of the course. According to Morton, within a few days of Sandy's floodwaters receding, his crew was mowing three of the four greens that had been submerged. The 13th was hardest hit. Three to 5 inches of silt were shoveled off. Morton applied a "witch's brew" of micronutrients. He said he thinks the chances of recovery are 50-50.
Watering would be a problem, if needed, on the lower holes. Seven irrigation control boxes were destroyed. The club does not have flood insurance, according to Morton.
Within days of the storm, local contractors were reconstructing the 21 destroyed bunkers, as well as the sand dunes between the course and the ocean.
The equipment was out in full force at Rumson Country Club.
At Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club in Branford, Conn., Sandy, like Irene, brought wind and water. Superintendent Peter Gorman was there for both storms. He suffered massive turf loss to Irene. Sandy looks to be playing out differently.
"There was no demand for the plants to pull up water. They were just sitting there chilling," he said of the late fall arrival day. "There was no reason to pull up the nasty salt."
In an effort to get the impending salt inundation through the soil, Gorman applied surfactants before Sandy arrived to the areas where salt water would reach turf.
Gorman said every department at the club was better prepared for the storm. For him, that meant removing everything from his maintenance shop that was "not bolted to the ground."
In contrast to Irene when the entire tennis complex had to be rebuilt, Gorman noted that this time only the resurfacing of the courts is needed.
The reduction in damage might also be because of the disparity of the two storms. With Irene, Gorman recounted, he had white caps on his first fairway. He didn't with Sandy.
"The nature of the storm surge was different, not as much wave action," he said.
Because of the last two hurricanes, the club decided to move the start date of its project that will raise low-lying areas from 2014 to 2013. The work will also create diverse tidal habitat areas on the course, which has a brackish stream running through it.
Sandy slammed Rumson Country Club, and it was a while before Superintendent Ben Stover and his crews had the entire course back to playable. Rumson is located at the mouth of the Shrewsbury River in northeast New Jersey.
Eleven holes at Rumson had a significant amount of salt water on them, and eight greens were affected to varying degrees. In addition, about 160 trees came down, and Stover estimates that 60 percent of those were 30 inches or more in diameter, trees he described as "the stuff you can't replace."
The flooding was the result of the massive tidal surge; only 3 inches of rain fell.
On a positive note, the yacht club building scheduled for demolition was destroyed.
This is Stover's first hurricane as the headman. He became superintendent a few weeks after Irene hit in 2011.
"We got gypsum out as soon as we could, but we didn't have power to water it in," Stover said. "We got snow (soon after), but if it had been rain it would have been perfect."
It took two weeks for Stover's crew to clean up the remnants of the trees as well as the silt, sand and debris left on the course, including an estimated 50 30-gallon trash cans. Also found were cancelled checks and a small number of what Stover said appeared to be very old photos that were waterlogged and ruined. Seasonal maintenance staff could be kept on for an extra two months as the recovery continued.
The caddy master and some of the pro shop staff aided the maintenance department in its efforts. There was also a volunteer day in which 60 club members came out armed with their own rakes.
Stover is thankful the turf had stopped growing, allowing his crew to focus on cleanup.
"We were blessed that it was late in the year because we didn't have to mow the other grass," he said.
In Virginia, courses must have felt blessed when Sandy stayed out to sea. Goose Creek Golf Club in Leesburg, Va., encountered flooding, but nothing the course hasn't seen before, according to Superintendent and General Manager Jeff Burg.
Three holes were flooded with as much as 6 feet of water when Goose Creek and another tributary of the Susquehanna River overflowed, the result of 9 inches of rain. Left behind was a covering of silt, thick enough in some spots to be removed by a box blade. No trees fell, but plenty of debris was left behind.
"Timing was bad in the sense we didn't have the weather to help with the growth," Berg said. However, he's glad the damage wasn't nearly as bad as he experienced at Goose Creek: "Isabelle was worse in '03."
The tallying of the impact Sandy had on courses will not be determined until well into 2013.
Stover won't venture a guess at what will happen.
"I don't know yet," he said.
Asked when he'll be able to determine how well the turf withstood the storm, Morton's succinct summation spoke for most in his position.
"When I know," he said.
Pioppi, senior writer for Superintendent, can be reached at Apioppi@earthlink.net.