Columbus, Neb. is already reporting closing of its courses from levee breaches, and more such damage is expected as the Missouri River and other Midwestern waterways continue to swell. The Federal Emergency Management Association changed its policy six years ago to now allow funding of grass and sod replacement for golf courses, in addition to repairing pump stations and bridges, but proper procedures must be followed.
In Columbus, Neb., recent flooding and damage to a local levee has caused the closing of the city-owned Van Berg and Quail Run golf courses.
On the city’s website, officials expressed hope that the water on the Van Berg Golf Course would dissipate and tree damage would be removed fairly quickly so that operations could resume.
Damage at Quail Run was extensive, however. “Staff is working on cleaning up damage on the section of the course north of the levee,” the city’s website message read. “We will be looking at reshaping a couple of holes so there will be nine holes available on the north side of the levee. We are anticipating opening the north side of the course on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.
“Damage on the south side of the levee is extensive,” the message continued. “Therefore, the holes on the south side of the levee will remain closed until further notice.”
The latest round of spring flooding and levee breaches that are now threatening Midwestern clubs and golf courses is expected to only become more severe, as the Missouri River and other bodies of water continue to swell to extremes not seen for 25 years.
That makes it even more important, notes Kevin Norby, ASGCA, RLA, a principal with Herfort-Norby Golf Course Architects, for managers to prepare in advance for the steps that should be taken to minimize potential damage, and also to maximize the speed and extent of recovery measures and funding that can be obtained when flooding does occur.
Norby has been involved with a number of golf course projects at properties have been devastated by flooding. While he says there is now financial assistance available for courses that are the victims of flooding, that hasn’t always been the case.
“Back in 2013, I was involved in the first FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Administration]-funded golf course restoration project in the country,” Norby says. “Prior to 2014, FEMA would only fund infrastructure replacement like pump stations or washed-out bridges that were a public safety issue.
“However, all of that changed in 2013, when FEMA issued a policy bulletin stating that they would now fund repair or replacement golf courses and sports fields,” Norby adds.
Specifically, he explains, the policy stated that funding is eligible if “Grass and sod replacement is an integral part of the repair or replacement of the eligible recreational facility.”
After a flood, Norby notes, the first response by most superintendents or owners is to immediately get to work trying to get the golf course back in playable condition. However, that might not be the best course of action.
“Any work completed before FEMA gets involved is not going to be eligible for assistance,” he warns. “So make some phone calls and make sure you know where you stand.
“To be eligible for these grants, the first thing that has to happen is that the Governor must declare a state of emergency and request disaster relief funding from the President of the United States,” he explains. “In Iowa and Nebraska, that has already happened and it is also likely forthcoming in South Dakota. Once FEMA agrees to the scope and estimated costs, construction can begin.”
Norby points to a project his company did at Coal Creek Golf Course for the City of Louisville, Colo. The course was flooded when nearly 10 inches of rain fell and Coal Creek overran its banks. The resulting flooding washed out 40 bunkers, damaged 14 greens and undermined abutments on two bridges.
FEMA contributed nearly $2.5 million of funding for the course’s recovery and the city contributed another $2.2 million to install a new irrigation system and make other improvements that were not eligible for funding by FEMA. Coal Creek broke ground for its restored course in the spring of 2014 and completed construction in the fall of 2014.
“In 2015, we assisted in securing FEMA funding for Meadowbrook and Hiawatha Golf Courses in Minnesota, when Minnehaha Creek flooded both golf courses after weeks of rain,” Norby adds.
The restoration included the complete reconstruction of bunkers and the re-grassing of nearly 50 acres of fairway and rough on each course.
“There were also a few satellite controllers that were submerged, so we made the argument that the old VTII satellites and controllers were no longer available [and that we] needed to replace the entire control system with a new satellites and a new state-of-the-art computerized central control,” he adds. “FEMA covered nearly $3 million in improvements for the two courses.”
For courses that are prone to flooding, Norby suggests that steps be taken in advance to prepare a master plan and emergency management plan for the property. Having those in place, he notes, will speed the process of dealing with FEMA when funds must be requested for flood restoration.