MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – Ready to play some golf on the Grand Strand?
Course operators are working frantically to get their layouts reopened following record levels of rainfall since Thursday, and many will reopened Tuesday so golfers can enjoy the remainder of a week that is forecast to have sun and seasonably-warm temperatures.
The Strand's approximate 100 courses suffered varying degrees of damage from the heavy rainfall and flooding.
The National Weather Service office in Wilmington, N.C., registered nearly 24 inches of rain in Longs into Monday, so courses along S.C. 9 endured the brunt of the storms. Aberdeen Country Club is expected to be closed 10 days or more and could have flood damage to buildings, structures and cart paths.
Many other courses are just waiting for standing water to subside.
"We were very lucky at the golf courses. We dodged a bullet all things considered," said East Coast Golf Management President Mike Buccerone, whose company manages four Strand courses and has a marketing coop involving more than 20. "There are some areas that are not passable until the water subsides. But for the most part, it could have been worse.
"There's a full-court press on to get open [Tuesday] if we can. We're not going to be riding fairways on Wednesday, I'll tell you that. But we'll do what we can to get open."
Course operators have an urgency to reopen as soon as possible considering they are in the midst of a fall golf season that lasts approximately seven weeks through the third week of November.
So they have busy tee sheets full of vacationing players booked through golf packages that they're trying to accommodate, and will be more significantly hurt financially the longer they remain closed.
"We're into fall golf season now full bore," Buccerone said. "This is the height of it. October is a good month for everybody. It's unfortunate. Flights are canceled and people can't even get here. But we'll get through it."
Max Morgan, director of agronomy for Founders Group International, which owns and operates 22 Strand courses, said course operators have an obligation to golfers, particularly those in the area on golf packages, to open the courses as soon as possible, even if it means playing conditions won't be optimal.
"They're here to play golf and I think we owe it to them to open and let them play," Morgan said. "That's what they came here for. We offer a service to them. When we have conditions like bunkers being washed out, they understand."
Morgan has been an area superintendent for 34 years, and this is the most rain he's had to deal with. "I've been around for a while, been here for hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Floyd (1999), and this is the most rain we've had in one event," Morgan said.
Floyd had perhaps the second biggest impact on golf courses because of rain over the past 40 years. Hugo's damage was more wind-related. Morgan was at Eagle Nest Golf Club in 1989 and the course opened the day after Hugo came through once fallen trees and limbs were moved or removed. The golf course was ready for play, but golfers weren't, considering many people had evacuated and there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place. "We opened the next day and we didn't have one soul play golf," Morgan recalls.
According to the National Weather Service, parts of Georgetown endured up to 21 inches of rain and parts of Pawleys Island saw as much as 17 inches from Thursday into Monday.
Morgan and his Founders Group staff keep their own amount totals through rain gauges, and he said 16.2 inches of rain was measured at Wild Wing Plantation, including 8.2 inches on Sunday alone at both Wild Wing and neighboring Myrtle Beach National on U.S. 501.
Aberdeen is being impacted by the height of the Waccamaw River alongside S.C. 9, which Morgan said is at nearly 15 feet. It's normal level is about 8 feet, he said, and "once it gets to about 13 we can't play golf anymore." It's feared the river's water level won't peak for a few more days.
Aberdeen drains into the Waccamaw through a 10-mile man-made ditch called Buck Creek, and when the river rises too much the water backs up onto the golf course. Course workers moved all merchandise onto top shelves in the pro shop because water was threatening to enter the clubhouse, and all carts were moved to a high spot on the Meadows nine of the 27-hole course.
Morgan expected up to half of Founders Group's courses to be open Tuesday, likely including Pine Lakes Country Club, the Grande Dunes Resort Course, River Club, Pawleys Plantation, River Hills, and a Myrtlewood course.
The King's North Course at Myrtle Beach National will have to wait up to a few more days because it was among the courses with cart path damage. A 20-foot portion of cart path was washed out and must be repaired.
East Coast Golf Management-affiliated courses expected to open Wednesday include Beachwood Golf Club, Azalea Sands, River Oaks, International Club, Rivers Edge, Diamondback, Crown Park and The Pearl West. Those likely to open Wednesday include Indigo Creek, Farmstead, Meadowlands, Wachesaw East, Eagle Nest and Pearl East. Crow Creek and Brunswick Plantation, where the entire community in the Calabash, N.C., development suffered heavy flooding, are on schedule for Thursday openings.
Mystical Golf's The Wizard and Man O'War are reopening Tuesday, while The Witch, which winds through a swamp on S.C. 544, is scheduled to reopen Thursday.
Bob Seganti, director of golf at both Caledonia and True Blue in Pawleys Island, said he expects both courses to reopen Wednesday and the restaurants will reopen Tuesday.
Dunes Golf and Beach Club superintendent Steve Hamilton said 18 inches of rain was recorded on the property. He expects the course to be open either Tuesday or Wednesday, and bunker renovations to be the most costly and time-consuming repairs. "It could have been a lot worse for us," Hamilton said.
Most courses just have to drain in order to reopen, and some golfers may have to navigate closed and damaged roads to reach courses.
"There's water in every ditch, in every fairway and every bunker," Morgan said. "There are massive amounts of water lying everywhere."
Morgan said once the water recedes and any necessary repairs are made, there should be no lingering or long-term damage to the condition of the courses from the flooding.
He said the grass should regain its health rather quickly. Some areas of the country would have to deal with a layer of silt topping the grass following a flood, but the Strand generally doesn't have that issue.
"I think once we drain down we'll be back to normal," Morgan said.
Some courses will only suffer the effects of being closed two days, as a number of courses hosted golfers through Saturday, including about half of Founders Group's 22 courses.
Morgan said two of Myrtle Beach National's courses hosted 266 golfers Saturday, and more than 100 played Tradition Club. "With package play, people just want to play golf," Morgan said. "They were delighted to play."
Carolina National Golf Club, located off N.C. 211 in Supply, N.C., a couple miles from U.S. 17, amazingly reopened on Monday with tee times beginning at noon. Head professional Phil Smiley said he had 140 players booked and didn't have an available tee time until 3:00 p.m.
Word spread quickly that Carolina National would be open, as the course emailed package companies and alerted nearby courses they would be hosting players.
Smiley attributed the course escaping any significant flooding to luck. "We drain well and we've got 27 holes. The one nine that sits lowest (Ibis) is closed," he said. The course is hosting a member hospice charity tournament Wednesday as well as additional outside play.
This article was written by Alan Blondin from The Sun News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.