Hurricane Ike Takes Toll on Texas Coastal Courses

By: Steve Habel

Golf is back in business on the lower Texas Gulf Coast some three weeks after Hurricane Ike and its Category 2 winds, rain and storm surge blasted the area, but there is scarcely a course in the region that was not affected in some way by the storm.

Downed trees, water, flooding, wind damage and destroyed bridges were found at courses throughout the region, which was Ground Zero for Ike's landfall. In the weeks following the storm, crews have worked hard to get their tracks back into playing shape, in the process allowing golfers a respite from the travails of dealing with Ike's aftermath.

More than a million people evacuated the Texas coast because of Ike. The hurricane's wrath was felt as far north as Kentucky - where preparations for the Ryder Cup were interrupted as a winds sent a TV tower on to the 12th green; trees were also brought down, two roofs were damaged in the tent village and flagpoles were bent out of shape, and the storm caused flooding and deaths as far away as Pennsylvania and Illinois.

On Monday, an animal control officer stumbled across the body of a Hurricane Ike victim on an island near where the storm slammed ashore last month, bringing the national death toll to 72. The discovery pushed the number of Ike-caused deaths in Texas to 37.

Damage caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike in Ohio could hit $500 million or higher, making it one of the state's costliest natural disasters, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute. The September 14 storm knocked out electrical service for 2.6 million customers in Ohio. At least seven of the deaths blamed on Hurricane Ike were in Ohio.

At Moody Gardens Golf Course on Galveston Island, play is still weeks away as crews continue cleanup from the storm. The club was awash in sea water and workers are still trying to get the salt off the paspalum turf, while pumping water out of bunkers and restoring the bridge that connected the 17th green to the 18th tee box.

Golf course employees have been working since three days after the storm to get the course cleared of debris and back into operational condition. "Given our location right on the coast and where the sea wall ends, the course made it through in remarkable shape," said Bill Pushak, Moody Gardens' general manager. "I was on the island Monday after the storm hit us on Sunday night. You can't imagine the damage unless you see it with your own eyes."

The course, which opened for play June 5 and has had a remarkably successful first three months, is build slightly above sea level, enough to where the 14-foot storm surge that hit the island didn't completely swamp the grounds. Pushak said Moody Gardens' clubhouse, which is at 15 feet above sea level and built to withstand winds of up to 140-miles per hour, made it through completely unscathed.

"We have heard that this part of the island was hit with 115-120 mph winds, but we were able to keep what we have intact," Pushak said. "We still don't have phones, but we have power and the driving range has reopened. Our remaining repairs are being made to the greens, tees, fairways and bunkers - in that order. We are making substantial progress."

When the government puts its finishing touches on the Hurricane Ike cleanup, you can expect volumes of after-reports. They will document everything lost from lives to commerce to trees. Area golf courses definitely lost their share of trees.

"This is a different golf course now," James Williamson, manager of Chambers County Golf Course in Anahuac, said last week as contractors used giant loaders to truck off some of the 280 trees ripped out of the course by the hurricane. "We lost few key trees that will make a difference with tee shots."

At Evergreen Point Golf Club in Baytown, owner Tim Hazelwood reported the course lost 225 trees, all of which were cleared by Hazelwood and his staff and their family members. "Between ourselves and the people who work with us," said Hazelwood. He reported the course was ready to open last weekend, but had to wait a few days longer for the resumption of electricity to power its irrigation pumps. ""Basically, what I'm trying to do is get it cleared from tee to green," Hazelwood said.

The golf club is located just minutes from the San Jacinto Battlefield where Sam Houston and his army defeated the Mexican Army to gain independence for Texas. Because of area burn bans, debris piles are still lining some fairways, so duffers beware.

"Our golf course was annihilated," added Goose Creek Country Club club general manager Rudy Sangston. "We probably lost 100 trees. The course isn't playable right now."

There were eight large oaks down along the No. 5 fairway and seven oaks on the ground on the eighth hole. "Right now we're cutting them up and hauling them off to a central pile," Sangston said. "This pile is not like the one at your house. It's more like one made by 200 houses.

Newport Golf Club in Crosby may have been hit by a tornado as well as the hurricane. "We don't know for sure," said manager Chris Gruetzner. "But looking at the tops of some trees we suspect tornadoes were at play."

"We had a bunch of trees fall over, then a bunch that split off that we had to cut down," Gruetzner added "We had them all over the golf course." He estimated the course may have lost as many as 500 trees to the storm.

Golfers may not recognize Eagle Pointe Golf Course in Mont Belvieu "We lost about 400 trees," general manager Jeff Strong said. "We had damage to the clubhouse and our pavilion, but it was minor compared to damage to the golf course." All the downed trees have been cleaned up. "We hired a bunch of kids to help us," Strong said. "We're down to stump grinding and stump removal."

Chambers County's Williamson said his course lost 280 trees to Ike, which was "three times worse" than the damage the course suffered in 2005 with Hurricane Rita. "But this one here was easier for me than Rita," Williamson said. "With that one, my house was destroyed. So this is easier."

The cleanup hasn't been. Williamson said golf course employees were able to do all the cleanup after Rita. But this time, he has been assisted by Chambers Co. engineer Don Brandon and the county Road and Bridges Dept. and outside contractors.

Steve Habel is an Austin, Texas-based journalist and Cybergolf's Southwest Correspondent. Since 1990, he has traveled around the globe covering news, business and sports assignments for various news bureaus, newspapers, magazines and websites. He also contributes to Business District magazine in Austin as managing editor and is the Texas football beat writer and a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated, the Austin-based magazine for University of Texas sports. Habel writes a weekly golf column for The River Cities Tribune in Marble Falls, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Golf Writers' Association.