In Harvey’s wake, Houston golf community confronts devastation, maintains perspective

August 29, 2017

Under ordinary conditions, the Golf Club of Houston, site of the PGA Tour event formerly known as the Shell Houston Open, has a large lake between its first and 18th fairways.  

But over the weekend, as Hurricane Harvey swirled over southeast Texas, that lake grew so swollen, it looked more like a wind-whipped sea.  

“With the gusts we’ve been having, the waves out there are white caps,” said Steve Timms, president and CEO of the Houston Golf Association. “That’s how big a body of water we’re talking about.”

On Saturday afternoon, and then again on Sunday morning, Timms walked from his house to the club, slogging five miles on roads that had transformed into rivers. Gazing out at the inundated golf course, he was sobered by the force of the storm’s impact, and stricken by the thought of potential damage still to come.  

“We’ve had about 30 inches of rain so far and they’re saying this could be a 60-inch rain event,” Timms said. “It’s too early to know just how bad the damage is going to be, but we’re obviously looking at significant amount of devastation.”

With flood waters still rising across the region, and Harvey, now downgraded to a Tropical Storm but regrouping off the coast, golf is not the first thing on anyone’s mind. But it is on the radar of those in the golf industry as they begin to reckon with what the storm has wrought.[image:13920692]

At roughly 550 square miles, the greater Houston area is home to more than 150 courses, many of them built on creeks and bayous. While not all of them have borne the brunt of the storm so far, few, if any, have escaped unscathed.  

Among those badly hit is Gus Wortham Park Golf Course, a municipal track that the Houston Golf Association has been busy renovating. Five holes have been grassed in.  

They’re now under water.  

“If things stay that way, who knows how much damage there will be,” Timms said. “It’s just a very unfortunate situation.”

It will take weeks, if not longer, to gauge Harvey’s toll on golf, but preliminary reports have been trickling in.  

Timms said he’d been told by colleagues that Lakeside Country Club, in Houston, is “completely underwater and has quite a bit of water in the clubhouse.” A similar story appears to be unfolding at Champions Golf Club, the prestigious course co-founded by golf icon Jackie Burke. Timms said he’d spoken to Burke’s wife, Robin, who told him that Cypress Creek, which cuts through the layout, had breached its banks and that the 18th tee was underwater.  

“And that tee is a pretty good distance from the creek,” Timms said. “It’s just a tremendous amount of water we’re dealing with here.”

Wind, too. In Port Aransas, just south of where the storm made landfall, 120 mile-per-hour gales lashed Palmilla Beach Resort & Golf Club, toppling a double-decker bar adjacent to the clubhouse, according to Mitch Harrell, president of Troon Golf, which manages the property. No one was hurt.  

“We evacuated there on Wednesday and Thursday in preparation for the storm. We got our general manager over to Corpus Cristi,” Harrell said. “That’s obviously the priority. In this situation, golf is unimportant. What matters is keeping everybody safe.”

Troon manages three other properties that were touched to some extent by the storm, including La Cantera, in San Antonio, and Cimarron, just west of Houston, both of which were hit by wind and relatively modest amounts of rain. The third, Kissing Tree, in San Marcos, is under construction and scheduled to open in 2018. Harrell said it was unclear whether the storm would delay that timeframe.[image:13920690]

In a disaster as ruinous as Harvey, tree loss is all but inevitable. It appears to be the only damage suffered at Bluejack National, the private development in Houston that is home to the first Tiger Woods designed layout in the United States.  

“We got quite a bit of rain but I walked the entire course today and there were some trees down but other than that the course has weathered everything very well,” said Bluejack co-developer Casey Paulson. “Our land has quite a lot of movement, and we have several lakes on property that the water can drain into. Those lakes have not overflown.”

At the Golf Club of Houston, meanwhile, it’s a different scene. The course is spliced by Greens Bayou, which has surged beyond its banks, covering large swaths of the course in water deep enough to float a boat on.  

On Sunday, as Timms stood beyond the clubhouse, snapping pictures of the inundation, his camera captured a small flotilla consisting of three kayaks, a paddleboard and a yellow inflatable dinghy.  

Among the paddlers was Jonathan Dismuke, director of golf at the University of Houston, whose men and women’s teams both train at the Golf Club of Houston. All the players on both teams were safe (the men’s team, in fact, had spent the weekend at the home of University of Houston alum and 1995 PGA champion Steve Elkington), but their equipment was another matter. Much of it was in the teams’ training facility.  

With help from a neighbor, Jim Funk, and coaches from the men and women’s teams, Dismuke had mounted a salvage mission. It took several trips, but they succeeded.  

“I’ll tell you this much, I don’t recommend ever taking golf clubs on a kayak trip because it’s not easy,” Dismuke said. “But I think we probably saved $100,000 worth of equipment, so it was worth it.”