Northern California Golf Clubs Reopen After Wildfires

By | November 7th, 2017

The Tubbs and Atlas Peak fires in California’s wine country caused 43 deaths and destroyed 2,900 homes, while also damaging golf facilities. Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., lost its clubhouse and maintenance facility, while Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa and Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif., also sustained damage.

The tragedy of last month’s Northern California wildfires spread far and wide, causing 43 deaths. The Tubbs Fire alone destroyed more than 2,900 homes. So the impact on the golf community counts as an afterthought, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Still, some North Bay courses found themselves in the thick of the devastation. The clubhouse at Fountaingrove Golf & Athletic Club in Santa Rosa burned to the ground, as did its maintenance facility. Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa and Silverado Resort in Napa also sustained damage, the Chronicle reported.

Silverado reopened October 25, Mayacama plans to reopen November 8, and Fountaingrove’s golf operation hopes to be back in business November 18 (at least the front nine). One hundred and seventy-six Fountaingrove members lost their homes in the fire, according to club spokesman Randy Seelye.

“We’re a recreational facility, and it’s really secondary to all the other problems in the area,” Seelye said. “It’s an incredible rebuilding project. On the other hand, our club is kind of a social center for everybody. If we can get it going again, that will be helpful.”

The neighborhood around Fountaingrove’s course was especially hard-hit. Aerial video shows home after home, along both sides of many holes, reduced to ashes. The clubhouse, built in 1985 and consisting of two main floors and a small third floor, also became engulfed in flames in the early-morning hours of October 9. It quickly turned into a tangle of charred metal and debris, the Chronicle reported.

The adjacent course remains in remarkably good shape. Much of the land between holes is blackened, but the fairways and greens survived largely intact; moisture apparently helped prevent the grass from igniting, the Chronicle reported.

Several golf clubs in the Bay Area, including Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Lake Merced, loaned equipment to Fountaingrove. Oakmont Golf Club in Santa Rosa offered free green fees to Fountaingrove members, the Chronicle reported.

The closure of the course and nearby athletic club left about 140 employees, including part-timers, temporarily without work. Seelye said insurance coverage will help compensate lost wages and cover business losses (as is the case at Mayacama), the Chronicle reported.

“It’s very difficult,” Seelye said of the fire’s impact on Santa Rosa. “But I’ve lived in this area for 36 or 37 years, and the fire is really pulling everyone together. Everyone is so supportive of people who lost homes.”

Mayacama, a picturesque private club nestled in the hills on Santa Rosa’s northern edge, was hosting a UCSF charity event (along with former 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott) when the Tubbs Fire broke out. One member’s home burned down, and Mayacama also lost part of its golf-course maintenance facility and wastewater-treatment building, according to General Manager Greg Brown. Three wooden bridges and all the native-grass areas burned, but the course itself was mostly unharmed, the Chronicle reported.

Brown and some staff members hurried to Mayacama about 1 a.m. on October 9, evacuating guests and residents. They returned later that morning and spent two days helping fight fires around the 650-acre property, the Chronicle reported.

“It was really terrifying,” Brown said. “The whole property got scorched. But we got beyond lucky compared to these other poor souls around the county and in Napa.”

Ted Antonopoulos, Mayacama’s longtime head pro, wasn’t so lucky. He and his wife, Susie, lived in the Fountaingrove area of Santa Rosa, though they spent the night of October 8 in San Francisco after attending the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass music festival. They learned the next day that their home was destroyed. They couldn’t even get back into the neighborhood until nearly two weeks later, and then, in Antonopoulos’ words, “it looked like an atomic bomb went off,” the Chronicle reported.

One of the few things he recovered in the rubble was a photo of Jerry Garcia, folded over and burned at the edges but otherwise in good shape. Antonopoulos and his wife are Deadheads, so they savored the photo’s survival, the Chronicle reported.

He did lose an extensive collection of golf memorabilia, including hickory-shafted clubs dating to the days of Old Tom Morris; first-edition golf books signed by Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Walter Hagen; and a replica Cleveland putter like the one Ben Crenshaw used to win the 1995 Masters, the Chronicle reported.

“All of it is pretty much gone,” Antonopoulos said, “but we’re dealing with this whole thing pretty well, remarkably.”

Antonopoulos has been working sporadically since the fire, and he will return full-time when Mayacama reopens. Most other courses in Sonoma and Napa counties emerged with minimal damage, based on an informal survey. Twenty-nine trees came down at Oakmont, which was closed until October 20 as officials cleared debris, the Chronicle reported.

Silverado Resort in Napa was closed for more than two weeks after the Atlas Peak Fire, which started only hours after the resort hosted the final round of the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open. One memorable photo by Getty Images showed the skybox on No. 17 engulfed in flames on the morning of October 9, the Chronicle reported.

The North Course, where the tournament was played, sustained tree and turf damage on the back nine, according to Silverado vice president of marketing Julie Maurer. The driving-range poles and netting adjacent to Atlas Peak Road also need to be replaced; Maurer said those repairs should be completed by November 10. Silverado’s South Course was not damaged, the Chronicle reported.

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