Most of the Grand Strand's nearly 100 golf courses have reopened following the cleanup of damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.
About half of the area's courses reopened within a few days of the Oct. 8 storm, and most of those are allowing carts to ride fairways.
But it has taken more than a week for several courses to reopen, and there are still a few layouts that have yet to welcome golfers back because of flooding or the extent of the damage caused by the Category 1's pummeling wind.
"All things considered, with the strength of the storm and the flooding that some areas are still dealing with, the golf courses came through pretty healthy," said Steve Mays, director of sales and marketing for Founders Group International, which operates 22 Strand courses. "There was not a lot of structural damage, just a lot of trees that were downed.
"We feel really good where we are with the majority of our golf courses. A lot of cleanup has taken place."
Some courses reopened Monday including Myrtle Beach National's West Course, and several more are planning to reopen Tuesday morning including The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Arcadian Shores, Sea Trail Resort's Maples Course and the final nine holes at the 27-hole Brunswick Plantation.
The Waccamaw River was expected to crest in the Conway and Socastee areas Monday night or Tuesday, and hit a record level of nearly 18 feet.
That river is largely responsible for the delayed reopening of Aberdeen Country Club in Longs, Meadowlands Golf Club on the S.C. border in Calabash, N.C., Shaftesbury Glen Golf & Fish Club in Conway, Heritage Club in Pawleys Island, and the back nine of The Witch in Conway, as course operators await the recession of flood waters before they can reopen.
Extensive flooding struck Aberdeen, The Witch and Shaftesbury last October following record rainfall of 20-plus inches over four days.
Mays said flood waters at Aberdeen, the only FGI course that remains closed, had gone down about 6 inches as of Monday afternoon. "There's no timetable to reopen. It's just when the water goes down," Mays said.
Water reached the Aberdeen clubhouse -- it came a couple inches from it last October when the course was closed four weeks -- so it will need repairs. "We won't know until we get in there to see the damage once the water starts receding," Mays said.
Heritage Club head pro Sean Pearson said the course may reopen as early as Friday. The course had extensive tree damage that has been exacerbated by water overflowing the course's dike. Wooden bridges on holes 7, 8 and 9 are impassible. "By the time we get all the trees done the flooding should subside," Pearson said.
Course operators have hired a professional tree service that has temporarily moved large trees to an overflow parking area. "It's been a wild week and a half now," Pearson said. "The sad thing is the course is in great shape."
At Meadowlands, flood waters are preventing carts from traversing parts of the second and 17th holes, and director of golf Jason Monahan estimates the course will open Thursday or as late as Friday.
"We're only waiting on the water receding from two areas that are keeping us from getting around the golf course with a golf cart," Monahan said. "We've noticed the water receding, so we're making progress, there was just so much water it's going to take time."
The cart path to the front nine of The Witch is under water, as the swamp around the course rises with the Waccamaw River. The back nine was closed for three weeks last October because of flooding. "It's still going up out here," The Witch director of golf Graham Williams said Monday. "Like a lot of people, we're waiting on the river to be back to normal. You just can't get around down there."
The back nine along S.C. 544 has been open since last week so players have been playing the back twice to get in 18 holes.
Willbrook Plantation in Pawleys Island has received mild flooding from the Waccamaw River, but it hasn't caused the course to close.
Courses recovered quickly once flood waters receded last year. "Once the water is gone the golf course will be ready to play," Mays said of Aberdeen. "It doesn't damage the course. It's seen its water over the past year and always returned and been in good shape."
The semi-private Surf Golf and Beach Club, which was hit by a tornado in addition to the hurricane and endured damage to its cart barn, also remains closed for further cleanup and repairs. General Manager Tom Prough said he hopes to open by the end of the week.
In many cases, the delayed reopenings have been due to safety, with leaning trees and broken branches hanging over cart paths and other areas golfers might venture.
"From a golf course perspective, tees, fairways and greens are perfect," said Dunes Club head pro Dennis Nicholl. "That wasn't the problem. The issue is there were some trees still leaning over cart paths on the back nine. Until we could get the limbs that are dangling, the widow-makers we call them, until we could get them down and make the course safe we couldn't in good conscience let people out to play golf. We just can't afford to have something happen to them.
"Now that everything's on the ground today, now what you'll hear is the chipping up and grinding, which will go on for a couple months."
Many courses will employ local rules allowing for free drops from areas with tree debris and mulch piles. "If you get in the woods and you lose your ball, just drop one at the nearest point and play on," Nicholl said.
The Dunes Club had hundreds of trees felled or damaged, Nicholl said, including some that will change the appearance of the course and possibly the playability on some holes. On the dogleg-right par-4 11th hole, for instance, a couple of the primary tall trees on the inside of the dogleg along the marsh were knocked down, opening more of the hole up to approach shots, and some trees along Lake Singleton on the par-5 13th hole known as Waterloo were lost.
"There are certain ones down here that affect the visuals or the way you play the holes, but thankfully nothing fell on a green or tee box to really cause damage," Nicholl said.
The cart barn below the clubhouse was flooded by the storm surge, and the surge pushed tidal marsh and the swash onto some fairways during the storm, temporarily browning grass on holes 10-13, which includes Alligator Alley.
A handful of Dunes Club employees spent a few hours picking up debris and trash on those holes. "It's like nature's filter," Nicholl said. "We picked up tennis balls, flip flops, kids' shovels, and little lighters were everywhere. I couldn't believe it. It was quite a scene out here."
The Dunes Club has 175 players booked for its reopening Tuesday, including members, their guests and visiting golfers. "It was a tough weekend for us to not be able to play golf," Nicholl said. "Two of the busiest weekends of the whole fall were the first and second weekends of October and we missed them both with this hurricane, so that's tough."
Several pro shop and course maintenance staff workers were on the course Monday going through downed trees on the seventh and eighth holes, cutting the large limbs and trunks into pieces with chainsaws and running the pieces and branches through a wood chipper. Larger trees and stumps will have to be dealt with later by stump grinders and dump trucks.
Cleanup will continue for a month or more on several courses. "It's going to be the sweet sound of chainsaws and chippers in your backswing for a little while," Nicholl said.
Sea Trail will be full strength with three courses when the Maples Course opens Tuesday. The Byrd Course opened Wednesday and Jones Course on Friday.
"We just wanted to wait until we could get the courses for the most part clear for the golfers," Sea Trail head pro Andrew Galbraith said. "You want to make sure there aren't any big limbs hanging. The trees and branches were pretty thick in the fairways. It was an all-hands-on-deck team effort to get them where they are now.
"We're back, and you persevere and press forward."
Brunswick Plantation will be full strength with 27 holes Tuesday. Its Magnolia and Dogwood nines both opened Thursday, but the Azalea nine was impacted by water related to the Waccamaw River and will reopen Tuesday.
Many courses still have a lot of work and decisions to make regarding that work ahead of them in the cleanup process, including identifying damaged trees that are still standing but should be removed for safety reasons.
"I think a lot of it is contingent on the insurance and what it will cover and whether we should call temp laborers in or contract it out, those decisions we have to make moving forward," Nicholl said. "We just haven't gotten to that point yet. We're basically handling everything in house right now just to get open."
This article was written by Alan Blondin from The Sun News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.