Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: Ice storm's wrath felt at local golf courses

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An e-mail arrived in Monday’s inbox from some long-range weather forecasting service purporting to know 12 weeks in advance what the weather will be like during the Masters Tournament.

“Spectators can expect temperatures to be above average and humid early in the week for practice rounds, with a solid chance of thunderstorms and rain,” the press release claimed. “A weak cold front will move through in the latter half of the week, making way to dry conditions for most of the tournament. High temperatures are expected to be in the 70s, near average for the year.”

Not much of a limb to go out on there – which is good since there aren’t many limbs left in Augusta.

After freezing rain, ice and an earthquake, we should be thankful meteorologists aren’t calling for any plague of locusts or frogs or Rae’s Creek turning into blood. No sharknado or tsunami either.

The 4.1 magnitude earthquake near Edgefield, S.C., Friday night literally shook up a community already dealing with devastating effects from the freezing rain that buried the area in ice – ravaging trees and leaving hundreds of thousands without power for days.

The weather wreaked particular havoc on our local golf courses with Augusta National’s 366 acres getting no special treatment. Magnolia Lane was buried in broken limbs that fell under the weight of the ice. Fallen branches even knocked the club’s sign off its chain outside the main gate on Washington Road.

A club spokesman described the activity going on inside as “major cleanup mode” but said there were no reports of significant damage to the club’s iconic trees such as the 150-year-old live oak behind the clubhouse or the Eisenhower loblolly pine that guards the left side of the 17th fairway.

While there will certainly be a few pines missing, the course should revert to its usual pristine state long before Masters Week arrives.

As for the azaleas and other flowering trees that turn the course into a palate of colors each spring, experts say there should be nothing to worry about.

“The trees probably took the brunt of it,” said Douglas Bailey, the head of the department of horticulture at the University of Georgia. “Most of the understory shrubs are pretty resilient. It definitely wouldn’t effect the flowering of the azaleas, unless limbs got broken off. And the blooming time will be effected by how quickly we warm up.”

Augusta National is the master of making messes disappear without a trace. When some kind of tornado blew across the back of Amen Corner one evening during Masters Week a few years ago, a massive tree crushed the roof of a public bathroom tucked in the woods behind the 13th green. By the time patrons arrived the next morning, a new cedar shake roof had already been installed and any remnants of the mighty oak that smashed it had vanished.

That’s what unlimited resources and an abundance of manpower can do for you.

This magic act is not so easily replicated outside its gates. Its neighbor across Rae’s Creek – Augusta Country Club – expects to be cleaning up from this ice storm for most (if not all) of the 49 days left until Masters week arrives.

Course superintendent Greg Burleson said the club lost between 25 to 30 trees across the course, whether they were completely uprooted or suffered broken tops that will require removal. His toughest decision will be dealing with a row of live oaks that were planted recently along the 17th and 18th holes many of which were broken or bent sideways.

“It would be heart-breaking to have to cut those down,” said Burleson, who planned to get the course in good enough shape to open for play on the weekend as a par-3 course.

Forest Hills Golf Club “got banged up pretty good,” said superintendent Darren Davenport. He said at least six trees were completely lost and many more had the tops broken out of them and will have to be taken down, including one left of the 8th green that had fallen into the greenside bunker.

Both Burleson and Davenport were at their respective clubs in 2004 when the last comparable ice storm hit the area. During that storm, Forest Hills lost 23 trees and kept a rented wood chipper in constant use for six weeks with a staff of 10 cleaning up the debris.

It’s a similar story in South Carolina. Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken was described as “a mess” by head pro and general manager Brooks Blackburn, who said 10 to 12 trees were down or uprooted but that pretty much every tree on the course lost limbs.

“Fortunately, no greens were damaged,” Blackburn said, sending a note out to members that he hoped the maintenance staff could get the course and cart paths opened by Wednesday.

“We apologize for the inconvenience but Mother Nature has not been very cooperative as of late,” he said.

That’s an understatement. If she’s refrains from unleashing any more natural disasters before April, at least one forecaster is guaranteeing things will be looking up when it matter most.

“We are confident spectators and players at the Masters will see conditions typical of spring in the South with only one chance of rain for the week,” the forecasting entrepreneur promised.

For whatever that’s worth, we’ve got that going for us – which is nice.


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