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|The greens are back to normal at Gulf Hills after Hurricane Katrina. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)|
Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on Gulf Hills Golf Club in Ocean Springs, Miss., just outside Biloxi. Two years later, a review of the golf course shows few traces of that distruction.
He got that and more.
"I've been here 25 years and it's the first time I started to turn around and leave," said Fayard, the club manager, who has seen the historic course battered by several hurricanes and severe storms.
Katrina was a different story from the previous storms. On the fifth green sat a large boat, one of dozens scattered around the course. Jet-skis were all over the layout. There were washing machines and every sort of debris you could imagine.
"We had boats from all over Biloxi," Fayard said. "Some of them floated up still attached to the trailers. It was overwhelming."
The greens were covered in thick mud from the bayou, some of it four inches deep. Fayard was certain he had lost the greens on at least four holes.
Then there were the trees, or more accurately the lack of them. Hundreds bent and snapped like popsicle sticks. Gulf Hills has always been known as a shady oasis of sorts, but now it was a completely different course.
All the buildings had been damaged, some of them completely after the high winds and six- to seven-foot surge inundated them. Worse, morale was shattered.
But, Fayard didn't turn around and leave. He started back to work with tournament manager Larry Holt and a host of volunteers. Gulf Hills is a member-owned course, so there was no lack of willing helpers.
"We had to do something," Fayard said. "It was so depressing."
The first clean-up contractor quit, after enduring 30 flat tires on the first day from all the debris. But, the members endured and re-opened not long after the direct hit, the second course on the Biloxi coast to do so.
They flushed the greens and used chemicals and tender loving care, and didn't lose a single one.
Fayard and Holt said the course was about 85-90 percent complete, but Katrina left behind a little legacy.
First, they noticed the carts started to go bad, the result of salt water intrusion. Also, many of the surviving trees have died, from root rot and other problems.
"I don't think we're going to have any pine trees left," Fayard said. "If we have a drought this summer, they'll all be gone."
I played Gulf Hills two years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it. After playing it post-Katrina, I still enjoyed it.
It's certainly more open than it was, but the greens are back to normal as well as most of the rest of the course. Other than the fewer trees, there are few signs of the hurricane, though the members could surely point out some lingering after-effects.
It still has some subtle elevation changes, especially on the front nine, and enough big oaks remain to give it a shady, walk-in-the-park feel. Though the course is short, there are a good variety of holes.
It's a fairly easy, well-conditioned course, with few hazards. However, the smallish, old-fashioned greens can be troublesome.
Officials have started a live oak program that should help shade the course as they mature.
The club is still doing around 30,000 rounds a year, and expects to do more when the U.S. 90 Bay Bridge reopens. Two lanes are scheduled to open in November.
August 20, 2007
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
There are many stay-and-play options in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C region, but none can match the combination of upscale amenities at a reasonable price, the private-course conditions, the diversity of courses and the Interstate convenience of Turf Valley in Ellicott City, Md.
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