With a herculean effort to get the golf course up and running in a month’s time after Hurricane Harvey’s epic flooding last year, the grounds team at Lakeside Country Club proved that no catastrophe is insurmountable.
The best-laid plans don’t always work out as expected. Perhaps no one knows that better than the management team at Lakeside Country Club in Houston, Texas.
On Aug. 25, 2017, the private property was seven days away from launching a complete renovation of its 18-hole championship golf course. Instead, an unwanted guest in the form of Hurricane Harvey intruded on the premises. The Category 4 storm made landfall on the Texas coast with 130 mph winds and roared into Houston the next day, dumping 50 inches of rain on the area in less than a week after it stalled over the city for days.
Water overflowed onto the Lakeside property, which is surrounded by the Buffalo Bayou, a slow-moving river that flows through Houston, and the Barker Reservoir, a flood-control structure that is connected to the bayou.
Aerial views of the property from footage of local TV station helicopters gave members of the Lakeside management team—including General Manager Craig Schaner, CCM; Superintendent Terry Hutcherson, CGCS, and Director of Golf C.W. Canfield—an idea of what to expect when they returned to the 209-acre grounds. So before they even set foot on the water-logged golf course, they started formulating a plan to clean up the property and to keep the grass alive.
Under the best-case scenario, Hutcherson thought golfers could get back on the course sometime in 2018. A new game plan began to take shape when the staff got to work, however, and through incredible effort, the front nine on the golf course reopened for play in just a month, on September 26, 2017. The south driving range reopened the following day, and the back nine was ready for play again on October 6.
“Terry jumped in with any staff members he could get and started doing everything he could to restore the golf course,” says Schaner. “C.W. did the same thing with regards to the golf operation.”
Assessing the Damage
When Schaner says Hutcherson jumped in, he wasn’t kidding. As documented by a video (https://www.youtube.com/embed/iQcEkiWB-fE) made by the United States Golf Association about Lakeside’s incredible recovery, Hutcherson enlisted the help of local authorities to be able to literally jump the property’s fence about seven days after the hurricane so he could begin to assess the damage.
More specifically, Hutcherson wanted to see if the club’s course maintenance facility was underwater. “The water line was up to the building, but it didn’t get into the building,” he says. “The entire golf course was under water, though.”
Canfield was by Hutcherson’s side to witness his colleague’s reaction when he first saw the maintenance shop. “In light of everything that had happened, it was almost elation that everything in the building was safe,” he recalls.
(It was another four or five days later before anyone could get to the Lakeside clubhouse, and when they reached the building, which had undergone a $10 million renovation in 2015, they found that it was under four feet of water.)
Once Hutcherson saw that his equipment and the maintenance building had been spared (it was the only facility on the Lakeside property that didn’t flood), he started checking as many greens on the golf course as he could. He still couldn’t venture too far onto the course because of the floodwaters, though, and in his initial assessment of the damage, he couldn’t see any grass under the 12 to 15 feet of water. The storm had brought down 44 trees on the property as well.
Slowly, however, the tide started to turn. “Each day the water receded a little further and a little further,” says Hutcherson. “When the water receded five to seven days later, we could see the damage. Five greens were underwater for four weeks. It was almost five weeks before we could even see them. Once the water did recede, all you could see was brown. There wasn’t any green.”
There also was no time for despair. The Lakeside staff set up shop in a local contractor’s office, where it met daily. The contractor helped put together pricing for repairs, and Lakeside members that work in the construction and development industries offered their services as well.
Doing the Work
Ironically, Hutcherson’s biggest concern was being able to water the greens because the sun, after it came out, baked debris and 1/2 to 2 inches of silt onto the putting surfaces in some places. Watering the greens would be a challenge, however, because there was no power, no pump station, and no satellites to operate the course’s irrigation system.
Undeterred, maintenance staff members used tractors to take 500-gallon water tanks adapted with hoses out onto the golf course to hand-water the greens. It took four or five tanks to water one green. “We spent more time filling the tanks than watering,” notes Hutcherson.
The staff also used tractor pumps to water the putting surfaces. “We usually use a tractor pump to get rid of water, but we watered the greens with it,” adds Hutcherson.
Of course, the property had to dry out before the staff could even get to work. “Every day we had to pick our time when we could work,” Hutcherson reports. “From daylight to dark, it took all day to water the greens.”
The crew also had to clean up debris and silt from the Buffalo Bayou and cut up the fallen trees. And they rescued as many fish that had ended up on the golf course as they could.
To clear debris from the course, grounds crew members verticut the entire property. They also used verticutters and fairway blowers to clean off the greens. “The greens were like walking on concrete,” says Hutcherson. “The entire property—the fairways, greens, rough—all had silt all over it. It was like walking on ice.”
Debris got into the irrigation system, and it took four to six weeks to receive new satellites that had been ordered. To add to the challenge, the staff had a minimal supply of fuel.
“Every day was a different nightmare for a while,” says Hutcherson. “We just tried to take care of two or three holes.”
Finding the manpower to perform the work was difficult as well. Many of the crew members were dealing with flooding issues at their own homes or were unable to reach the club on the impassable roads.
For the first few weeks after the storm, only five crew members—one-fifth of the normal staff—were able to help. They had to park three-fourths of a mile away from Lakeside and get picked up and transported the rest of the way.
There was only one way in and out of the property, and it took a good three hours for Hutcherson to get home, so he often stayed at the property overnight.
In addition to keeping the grass alive, Hutcherson’s priorities were getting a new pump station up and running and placing satellites on the property to water the golf course, a process that took about two months.
Operating without an irrigation system, he relied on a common-sense approach to save the turf. After Harvey struck, Hutcherson raised mowing heights on the entire golf course to help the grass survive the winter. He raised the height of the greens from .120 to .125 inches. He also put restrictions in place to help the grass recover properly, and the golf course was cart path-only, even for the grounds crew.
Once the greens were opened, the grounds crew aerified them with mini-solid tines every five to seven days
Canfield’s staff helped the grounds crew clear debris from the driving range and tried to salvage anything they could. However, his department had to deal with issues of its own.
“We had about four feet of water in the golf shop,” he says. “We lost our fleet of golf carts, and we lost all of our merchandise, except for some grips on a top shelf.” Canfield started ordering merchandise from his vendors and had it delivered to his house. “My garage became a makeshift pro shop, until we could move back to the club,” he says.
He and Hutcherson talked daily, and others, including a company that delivered a fleet of golf cars to use as free rentals, rose to the occasion as well.
“It was a group effort to get the golf course back online for the members,” notes Canfield. “That was our rallying point. The dedication to be there while [everyone’s] own lives were turned upside down was remarkable.”
Despite the hardships they had to endure after the storm, the Lakeside staff members never wavered in their determination to restore the golf course as soon as humanly possible.
“It became pretty clear to us as a management team, and also to the Board, that the sooner we could get members back out to the club to play golf, the sooner they would feel a sense of normalcy,” explains Schaner. “It was a chance for members to get away from the devastation and see their friends and staff at the club and begin to actually move forward.”
Planning for the Future
While it will take years for the property to recover fully from the storm, Lakeside still has plans to follow through with its golf course renovation that Harvey so rudely interrupted. That initiative must now be put on hold, however, while the rebuilding of the clubhouse takes priority (construction is expected to be complete by December 2019).
The unexpected closure caused by Harvey also gave the Lakeside grounds staff a chance to reevaluate its golf course maintenance practices. This year, the property closed from a Monday until the following Monday during both June and August to perform major maintenance work on the course. Staff members aerified all of the fairways, greens, collars, approaches, and some of the rough. They verticut the entire property and installed 400 tons of sand on the course.
“At first the members didn’t like the club being closed that long, but after the fact, they were in total agreement that this is something we need to do,” says Hutcherson. “We’ll continue to do it from this day forward.”
In addition to discovering that the membership would not revolt if the property shut down for several days for course maintenance, the Lakeside management team gained other valuable insights in the aftermath of the storm.
“Two words that come to mind are patience and perseverance,” says Canfield. “You can’t get everything done as quickly as you would like.”
For Schaner, “the importance of communication with all of your constituents” was the lesson that resonated with him.
In addition, he found strength in adversity.
“This whole experience was devastating, and it has been an incredible journey,” says Schaner. “But at the end of the day, it makes us stronger. Having to go through this revealed the character of our staff, our members, and our Board. It reveals character beyond what we even knew existed. It pulled us closer together than we already were.”
Terry Hutcherson, CGCS
Duties and Responsibilities:
• Oversee maintenance of entire property (209 acres) including areas of clubhouse, parking lots, pool, tennis/fitness, teaching center, driving ranges, Par 3, and golf course
• Establish golf course standards
• Manage crew of 27 full-time employees
• Oversee chemical and fertilizer applications
• Oversee all golf course construction/renovation
• Hire, train, and direct assistants, irrigation technician, mechanics, and staff
• Keep accurate and complete chemical applications, TCEQ documentation for UST
• Prepare annual maintenance budget and capital improvement budget related to the golf course and grounds
• Oversee scheduling and routing of personnel and equipment
• Coordinate goals and objectives with General Manager and Golf Professional
Education and Training: Oklahoma State University (BS in Agriculture)
Years at Lakeside CC: 17
Years in Golf Course Maintenance: 36
Previous Employment: Royal Oaks Country Club, Houston, Texas; Amarillo (Texas) Country Club; Page Belcher Golf Course–Stone Creek, Tulsa, Okla.
Certifications: TDA Pesticide License, GCSAA Certified Golf Course Superintendent for 25 years, Texas Class A and B UST Facility Operator, Member of Texas Turfgrass Association, Member of South Texas Golf Course Superintendents Association
Honors and Awards: Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for 23 consecutive years; hosted Texas State Amateur, USGA U.S. Open Sectionals
COURSE & GROUNDS PROFILE
Lakeside Country Club
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $2.3 million
Staff: 27 fulltime employees
Other Staff Members: Braeden Riley, Assistant Superintendent; Jose Tobar, Foreman; Andy Adair, Mechanic; DeeDee Hutcherson, Horticulturist; Gilbert Medrano, Irrigation Specialist, and a loyal crew, with many having tenure of 20- and 30-plus years at Lakeside.
Irrigation System: Toro Site Pro; about 2,400 heads for entire property of 209 acres
Water Source and Usage: Buffalo Bayou and private well
Equipment: 85 percent of major equipment leased through Toro (walkmowers, fairway mowers, aerifiers, core processor, topdressers, etc.)
Maintenance Facility: 4,800 sq. ft. with a separate, 1,600-sq. ft. area that includeds restrooms, breakroom and locker room for employees.
Aerating and Overseeding Schedules:
Aerification, 3x (April, June and August);
Upcoming Capital Projects: Rebuilding the clubhouse and in the initial phases of planning a complete course renovation that will possibly begin in 2020 or 2021.