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Palm Coast Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 1 year ago

Column: After the wreckage of past storms, it's nice to have the area's golf courses up-and-running

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Hammock Beach Resort's esteemed Ocean Course was shut down for 13 months due to the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew.
by: Ray Boone Sports Editor

When I stood on the very back tee box overlooking the par-3 17th hole for the grand opening of Hammock Beach Resort’s esteemed Ocean Course on Thursday, Nov. 2, I was awestruck: 185 yards of shockingly bright green grass, well-placed bunkers, a scenic beach and a disturbed Atlantic Ocean in the background.

It was the perfect setting. It’s hard to imagine it was also once the scene of destruction.

Les Schupak tees it up on the 17th hole at the Hammock Beach Resort's Ocean Course. Photo by Ray Boone

Thirteen months prior, Hurricane Matthew ripped through Flagler and Volusia counties. Where I now saw beauty and grace, Matthew had brought flooding and wreckage.

On Oct. 6, the storm hit: a downgraded Category 3, winds around 90 miles per hour, the eye nearly 20 miles off the coast and a high tide at 10 a.m.

“It was a perfect storm,” said Brad Hauer, the director of golf at Hammock Beach. “Water was coming up over the dune line.”

A 7 to 9-foot storm surge washed over the dunes and across the holes closest to the beach. The excess ocean water found its way into the course’s interconnected lakes and drainage system. The lake’s water levels rose, and pretty quickly, there was saltwater damage throughout the entire course.

To put things into perspective: The Ocean Course’s irrigation water has 600 parts per million salt. Bermuda grass, which made up the entirety of the course at the time, has a threshold of about 1,500-2,000 parts per million. Ocean water is 33,000 parts per million.

“When our experts came here to start taking a look at what we had, they couldn’t believe the amount of salt that had infiltrated the soil,” Hauer said. “Everyone that came here had not seen that amount of salt. It was just off the charts.”

A complete overhaul was needed. New grass — a premium grass known as paspalum, which has a much higher threshold for salt — was installed. The whole process took 13 months. Thirteen months with no golf and, most importantly, no revenue.

The recent storms have not only affected Hammock Beach, either. The damage sustained from Matthew and Hurricane Irma was widespread, creating problems for most courses throughout the area.

Bob Duquette, the head professional at Cypress Head in Port Orange, said his course took a small amount of damage as a result of Irma. Flooding and massive amounts of debris were a concern. Although the course was only shut down for five days, the financial hit was serious.

“Anytime that you close a golf course, you’re losing revenue that you’re never going to get back,” he said. “Any time a course closes and is restricted, it does take a toll financially.”

And that’s just the toll the course takes. The community, with businesses and attractions that benefit from being neighbors to a championship-level course such as the Ocean Course, also take a hit.

Hammock Beach Managing Director Terry Bechtold said businesses around the area have told him that when the resort is doing well, they’re doing well.

“The community does better when Hammock Beach is running at all gears,” Bechtold said. “It’s a partnership.”

It's good to see one of the east coast's top courses finally up-and-running. It helps everyone — the course, local business and golfers alike.

(And just in case you were wondering, I stuck my tee shot on 17 to 3 feet. It was pretty sweet.)

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