Editor’s note: As the waters recede in Houston, we’re looking at stories about rebuilding, redemption and the people who help normalize the lives of those affected by tragedy. We’re looking forward to telling the stories of rebirth out of Houston and the people who are helping to rebuild places and the human spirit.
The hurricane also showed us another aspect of the human spirit – unconditional kindness. It is a quality that is not in short supply when it comes to the golf course superintendent profession.
Moments after the storm hit land, superintendents and their vendors across the nation were contributing funds to help their peers overcome what has been called the third worst natural disaster to hit the United States.
As he watched news reports of the recovery from Katrina a decade later, Steve Sarro had a flashback. The director of grounds at Pinehurst Country Club in Denver, Colorado, Sarro was one of the many who sprang into action after the storm. But Sarro went above and beyond. He organized a group of 27 members of the Rocky Mountain Golf Course Superintendents Association to caravan to New Orleans to help four courses and their superintendents get back on their feet. (For his efforts Sarro was the first superintendent ever to win the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame’s Golf Person of the Year Award in 2007).
“I wanted to do something, but I really did not know for sure until I saw the show ‘Extreme Home Makeover’ and then it hit me. Why don’t I get a group of superintendents and go down and help?” Sarro says. “I was single at the time and our season was winding down.”
Sarro, a native of Dedham, Massachusetts, had only been in Colorado for five years, but his request to help was met with open arms from friends and strangers alike. Those that could not make the trip pitched in with money, supplies or reached out to others who could provide similar resources. On March 11, 2006, the group met at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs to begin a trek for a week of makeover work on the Mississippi Delta.
“I was blown away,” Sarro says. “Like I said, I was single. I really did not have the obligations others had. But nobody turned me down. Everyone I talked to helped out in some way. There was no one dreading our assignment either, even though we knew it would not be ideal conditions.”
Sarro is being humble. Raised in a Catholic household, his parents Vincent and Barbara, taught him at an early age the importance of volunteering and helping others. While he may have had no family obligations, he was in the process of interviewing for his first superintendent job at Vail (Colorado) Golf Club at the same time he was deep in planning for the trip. He was prepared to turn down a job offer if his boss would not let him take the trip, but his new employer was in total support of his project.
At the time, Hurricane Katrina had moved off the round-the-clock news cycle. No longer was the world seeing the heartbreaking photos of misplaced families, flooded neighborhoods or mounds of waste and debris. Still there was much work to be done. The golf courses were overgrown, trees and branches were strewn about and tire ruts were formed where vehicles had driven.
Sarro said he did not know what to expect from the people they would encounter, but he was surprised to find such a strong resolve among the workers and the citizens.
“This was their home. There were generations of families that had fought this kind of stuff – not this bad, but still they were not going to let this keep them down. They were working so hard to make it work. That inspired us. The golfers were also happy to see us. There wasn’t much they could do to escape from the problems they had. Golf allowed them to do that, even if it was for a short time.”
The excursion also had an unexpected impact on Sarro and the traveling party.
“We developed a great camaraderie and bond. We were close already because that is the nature of the profession, but we became even tighter. To a person, we came back more appreciative of what we have and knowing that it could be us that faces challenges down the road – and that there would be support from each other.
“That’s what makes this such a great profession.”