(Photo of Superintendent Shawn Fernandez marking “wood hazard” by William F. Galvin/The Cape Cod Chronicle)
Such storms rarely hit Cape Cod, but the Harwich, Mass. public course had to close for nine days after losing nearly 200 trees on July 23. The loss of tee-time revenues and staff overtime for cleanup carried an initial financial impact of more than $550,000, and officials had to scramble to dispel rumors that the damage would cause the course to close for the season. But it could have been worse if Cranberry Valley hadn’t started a program five years ago to remove trees that encroached on greens and fairways.
It took a major commitment by staff and tree-service companies, The Cape Cod Chronicle reported, but Cranberry Valley Golf Course is back in full swing, after a rare New England tornado hit the Harwich, Mass. property on July 23.
The public course was closed for nine days in after the storm, but nine holes were open by August 1 and the full course was available for play for the weekend of August 3-4, The Chronicle reported.
The closure was a major financial hit for Cranberry Valley, The Chronicle reported. In addition to losing nearly 200 trees that will need to be replaced, the loss of tee-time revenues and staff overtime for the cleanup carried an initial financial impact estimated at more than $550,000 to the town of Harwich. Town officials also had to scramble to dispel comments made on social media that the storm would cause the course to be closed for the rest of the 2019 season.
But it all could have been worse, course officials said, if not for a five-year tree-cutting program that helped to somewhat minimize the damage inflicted by the storm. Golf Course Superintendent Shawn Fernandez told The Chronicle that most of the course’s greens and fairways survived the tornado pretty well because of the program, which had focused on removing trees that encroached on greens and fairways.
All told according to Fernandez and Golf Director Roman Greer, 187 trees were lost in the tornado, The Chronicle reported. A couple of areas suffered particularly heavy tree losses, and holes 15, 16, six and seven were hit hard.
But even with 187 trees lost, frequent users of the course expressed dissatisfaction on social media that the tornado had not removed one tree in particular, The Chronicle reported. There were a lot of comments, Greer said, about the tree on the right side of the 18th fairway as it turns down toward that hole. That tree has a reputation for redirecting a lot of golf balls, he said.
Bartlett Tree Service came in immediately after the storm, Fernandez said, and spent four days getting rid of “widow makers.” A lot of loose branches in wooded sections of the course were cut and chipped. “If we hadn’t done that, they’d have been down all around the greens and fairways,” Fernandez said.
For the big trees that came down, Fernandez said Bartlett indicated it would take two to three weeks to remove them. Mayer Tree Service, which was handling major areas of damage in the town of Harwich, provided more heavy equipment and completed the work in a day and a half, Greer said.
The golf course officials went out of their way to praise the Cranberry Valley GC staff for their efforts with the cleanup. “These guys pulled up their boot straps and said let’s get this done,” Fernandez said. Four or five workers proficient with chainsaws started cutting, and others followed and picked up.
Fernandez said he brought his own trailer to load brush and take it to the landfill debris site. The greens and fairways were cleaned up in a day, he said.
Harwich Town Administrator Christopher Clark that The Chronicle that a decision was made to haul branches and debris away, instead of chipping it on site, which would have meant a longer cleanup process. There still remains a lot of brush to the sides of some fairways, and those piles are marked with orange cones as a “wood hazard.” It will take some time to remove those piles, Fernandez said.
Greer is now suggesting to golfers that if a ball lands in the woods under a pile of brush, they shouldn’t move brush and branches around. “Take a drop,” he said.
Fernandez told The Chronicle on August 6 that it would take another week to clear away a lot of the brush. His staff was exhausted from all of the work they had done to bring the course back, so Clark recommended having them work on the brush removal just a few hours a day during the mid-week.
Clark made a final inspection of the course on August 2, including a safety inspection, looking at the condition of the greens and fairways and making sure there were no overhanging branches that could fall and endanger golfers, The Chronicle reported. He was particularly concerned about dangling branches along the cart path and locations just off the fairways and greens. “The focus is on the cart paths and balls out of play,” he said.
Fernandez said there will be a long-term impact from the tornado for his staff, as more of the branches in many of the trees die and need to be removed. “We could be cleaning up until Christmas,” he said.
With the opening of the course on August 1, a Thursday, golfers quickly returned, The Chronicle reported. On Friday, August 2, a day that would normally average between 300 and 320 plays, there were 120 plays, Greer reported. He had his staff call those golfers scheduled to play on Saturday, August 3, and “every spot through noontime [was] booked.”
The Massachusetts Golf Girls Junior Amateur Championship, which was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, August 5-6, had to be canceled, however, because it was not certain if the course would be ready. “Without the tornado, it would have been a great showcase for the course,” Greer said.
As for the tornado itself, Greer told The Chronicle that the course has a warning system in place that can read lighting strikes within 15 miles of the course and warn golfers to take shelter. While there was no lightning with the tornado, an override from the pro shop notified golfers to leave the course as it approached.