While the clubhouse is still gutted, golfers recently returned to the Lynn Haven, Fla. property, though the course looks much different. Prior to Hurricane Michael, Panama CC had an estimated 5,500 trees. Now, only a few hundred remain. Until renovations are completed, players will rent equipment and carts from a mobile home in the parking lot. The club’s pool, however, is newly renovated and fully functional. Until the club is fully operational, it will transition to semi-private and allow public play.
Heavy rains in Lynn Haven, Fla. brought out an array of bright-color contrasts in the newly planted greens at the Panama Country Club, Panama City News Herald reported. Fox squirrels searched for food on the fairways as maintenance crews rushed to put the finishing touches on the course before its long-awaited reopening.
Hurricane Michael is two months shy of being a year in the past, and residents are eager to get back to a new normal, the News Herald reported. Charlie Commander, a club board member who led a tour of the course, said that the new “normal” began with players grabbing their golf clubs and getting back to the greens August 15.
“You have to make a decision to open at some point,” Commander said. “We don’t have malls or movie theaters. A lot of the population is gone, so it’s hard to do anything. People are looking for something to do. We want to open back up so people can start playing again.”
Although the course has reopened, players shouldn’t expect to see the Panama County Club they once knew, Commander told the News Herald.
The property prior to Hurricane Michael had approximately 5,500 trees on the course, some even said to be more than 200 years old, the News Herald reported. The trees, in addition to nearby homes, kept out winds from the surrounding bay, while also creating a challenge for even experienced players as they tried to avoid sending their ball straight into the small patches of forest.
There are now just a few hundred trees on the property, Commander told the News Herald. Players can see straight across the golf course to the surrounding houses covered with blue tarps. Many of the homes have been demolished, which, along with the lack of trees, turned the course into a Links-style of play.
Tee boxes, he said, have been moved further back to keep the game challenging now that the trees are gone, the News Herald reported. Commander said if players give it a chance, he’s convinced they’ll enjoy the new style of game the course now offers.
“We joked about re-naming this place Broken Pine,” Commander said. “It looks way worse than worse. It looks horrible. But, imagine trying to clean up 5,000 trees. We’re talking hundreds of years-old trees.
“What the staff has done is beyond belief,” he continued. “The trees destroyed this golf course. For now, we’re going to have really good tee boxes, playing turf and greens. We’ll handle the rest in phases.”
Players will have to go to a mobile home in the parking lot of the club house to rent equipment and carts until renovations are completed, the News Herald reported. As of now, the club house is gutted and vacant. The pool right outside the building, however, is newly renovated and fully functional.
The golf course, Commander told the News Herald, began operating in 1927. There are two unique aspects of the course. The first is the fox squirrel, which Commander said resembles a small bear.
The other is a graveyard on the course where the original homesteaders of the area are buried, the News Herald reported. Commander said if your ball accidentally lands inside the gated graveyard players receive a free drop. When they do, many often say they’re going to visit Mrs. Collier, a woman buried in the gated cemetery.
Despite the storm displacing many residents, Commander said there has been a very low number of membership cancellations, the News Herald reported. Until the course becomes fully operational, Commander said the country club will transition into semi-private to allow for public play.
A master plan has been created, Commander told the News Herald, with a long-term plan to finish a long list of renovations at the clubhouse and on the course. It will be about a year until the clubhouse will reopen, according to the master plan.
“Our members have been paying their dues even though they haven’t been able to play on the course,” Commander said. “People are ready to get back.”