Two clubs share their stories of disaster recovery
Summing it up
hink “it could never happen to you”? That’s what Bill Ochsenhirt, Vice President/General Manager of Inverness Country Club in Birmingham, Ala. thought until June 2007, when arson destroyed his property’s clubhouse (“Inverness CC Rises From the Ashes,” C&RB, December 2007). It’s also what Joey Hickman, Golf Pro and General Manager of Old Hickory (Tenn.) Country Club, thought until May 2010, when Nashville’s 100-year flood ruined parts of his course.
But in times of crisis, people pull together. That’s what happened both in Birmingham and Old Hickory, and while the road back to normalcy wasn’t always easy, it was attainable.
‘Are we still on for tomorrow?’
Literally hours after he watched Inverness’ 34-year-old clubhouse burn down to its foundation — taking with it 18 years’ worth of the hard-copy files that were stored inside — Ochsenhirt was receiving calls from members who, after expressing their sympathies over the loss, wanted to know whether their scheduled tee times were still going to happen in the morning.
It was then that Ochsenhirt realized he had to keep things as normal as possible during the recovery and rebuilding process, no matter how daunting that task might be. While all of the hard-copy records were gone, online records had been stored on an off-site server, and could be accessed from his home computer. He credits his wife, Pamela, with helping Inverness cope with the fire’s aftermath. Day after day, she stood curbside at the club, helping the Inverness staff answer the questions and concerns of golfers, members and even curious passers-by.
“We literally worked from a tent for the first three months,” says Ochsenhirt, noting that the intense Alabama summer heat didn’t help matters.
For many members, he says, coming to the site was “almost like going to a funeral. People were married here, celebrated their kids’ birthdays here. The building had 30 years of memories,” he says. But soon, sadness turned to excitement, when members learned that the clubhouse would be rebuilt.
Both Joey Hickman and Bill Ochsenhirt say that their disaster plans and up-to-date insurance policies served their respective clubs well in the days immediately following their crises. The experience has left them with other advice to share with colleagues as well:
1. The right insurance is crucial. For example, flood insurance is different than natural disaster insurance. “Many residents in this area really didn’t understand how far the flood plain came up,” Hickman says. The club’s insurance agent is also a member, and another insurance professional is on the Board of Directors. Both worked together to ensure that the club’s claims process was a smooth one.
“We took about a $60,000 hit, but we only lost about $20,000,” Hickman says, noting that another $15,000 came in the form of donations.
“You may think ‘I’m going to save money by cutting back on insurance,’ but you’ll wish you hadn’t if something happens,” says Ochsenhirt, who goes over his policy every year to ensure it’s up to date. “Members are going to expect you to rebuild what you lost, and you’d be surprised at how many things of value are within your property. Detailed records can make a big difference.”
2. Store records off-site, and document everything. “We have our financial records online now, which gives great peace of mind,” says Ochsenhirt. Because the club had been planning to do a renovation anyway before the fire—the event just forced its hand to do it on a shorter timetable—Inverness already had detailed photographs of its clubhouse on hand, and off-site. “It’s one thing to describe what you lost to your insurance company, but it’s another to have photos of the furniture and the equipment,” says Ochsenhirt.
3. Communication is key. “There were lots of e-mails and meetings” in the days immediately following the flood, Hickman says. E-mails and texts were also the lifeline of communication after the Inverness fire, along with curbside in-person service for those who had come to the club looking for answers. “We had an emergency plan in place, so we knew what our message was going to be,” says Ochsenhirt. “It made it easier to organize and get things settled, so we could concentrate on working through the insurance claim and later, the construction of the new facility.”
4. In times of crisis, roll up your sleeves. As Hickman notes, “All of our checks are signed by the same company, no matter who does what.” A decade ago, management may have scoffed at taking on other duties, like waiting tables. But in the aftermath of the flood, everyone’s thankful to just have a place to work. “We had 40 employees, so 40 families would have been adversely affected had this flood wiped us off the map,” Hickman says. “It’s pretty humbling when you think about how many people depend on this club.”
5. Find the silver lining: Both clubs have come back stronger for the experience. The new Inverness clubhouse is much grander and more richly appointed than its predecessor. It also cost more than the insurance paid out — “but the old building was a nice down-payment,” Ochsenhirt says.
In September, while addressing its submerged greens, Old Hickory was also able to address bare spaces and reclaim other areas that were lost to encroachment. It cost a little more, but as Hickman quipped, “We figured we already danced with the ugly duck [thanks to the flood], so let’s dance with her sister, too.”
6. Realize that you can’t foresee everything. Would Hickman have done anything differently? He doesn’t think any action in particular would have changed the course of events. “Our 9.5-foot-high pump structure had to be located next to the lake it pumps from, and it became submerged in 8 feet of water. We couldn’t have set it up any higher, and we couldn’t have sandbagged it,” he says.
Likewise, Ochsenhirt regrets that the hard-copy records went down with the clubhouse, and that a better alarm/sprinkler system wasn’t in place. But those missteps won’t happen again — Inverness now features a state-of-the-art life safety system in its new facility, and all records are stored off-site.
Because the clubhouse wasn’t running at full capacity until 2009, it had to lay off about 45 employees. “We had such a great outreach from surrounding clubs, though,” Ochsenhirt says. “All of our employees literally had jobs the next day, with the understanding that they were welcome to come back here when we reopened. But by then, they had established new roots at their jobs.”
Ochsenhirt also credits his colleagues with helping him relocate weddings and other events that were scheduled in the first months after the fire.
On Sept. 1, 2007, the Inverness staff moved into an air-conditioned, temporary structure, which was wryly referred to as the “modular palace.” And on July 3, 2009, Inverness Country Club reopened its clubhouse bigger and better than ever (“A Hot Property Again,” C&RB, August 2009).
‘Nobody thought it was going to flood’
Joey Hickman recalls watching the Nashville flood on TV, feeling sympathetic for colleagues at the Gaylord Opryland resort who were in the thick of the event. But because Old Hickory was northeast of the city, nestled between Old Hickory Lake and the Cumberland River, he really didn’t expect to see damage to his club, too. Within hours, however, his water pump and five of his greens were submerged.
Hickman characterizes the days immediately after the flooding as “humbling.”
“We did not have any ability to wash off the mud residual, and we went a full nine days before we were able to get the pumps back up to run water,” he recalls, noting that the team didn’t even know what kind of sediment was left behind. “After the rains, it got very hot —we could have lost all the greens in a weekend.”
Like Ochsenhirt, Hickman worked hard to get the club back to as close to normal operations as quickly as possible. “We were closed that first week, then we opened nine of 18 holes on the higher elevation,” he says. Where a typical May for the club sees about 2,750 rounds, May 2010 was down to about 1,400. Because Old Hickory’s clubhouse sits on a hill, indoor events, dining and other club functions were not affected, he says.
Hickman is particularly grateful that the three golf outings that were scheduled at the club in the first few weeks after the flood could all be rescheduled. “That would have been a huge impact, at least $20,000 in revenue we would have otherwise lost,” he says.
In September, Old Hickory hosted a PGA state match.
“We played 16 holes, then holes 1 and 3 again, to make 18 holes,” says Hickman, who was on the PGA Tournament Committee and had explained the circumstances to his colleagues. “Everyone was patting me on the back and saying, ‘It was a lot better than what you said it might be.’ ”
Still, Hickman is glad that “2010 is in the rear-view mirror.”
“My faith grew even more this year,” he says. “I have not only grown as a golf pro, but also as a person who can handle adversity. “