Impromptu storm snapped 1,100 trees at Ottawa Hunt Club mere months ahead of CP Canadian Women’s Open
April 14, 2023 By Mike Jiggens
Excitement was in the air at the Ottawa Hunt Club in the spring of last year. The more than century-old private golf course was gearing up to host the 2022 CP Canadian Women’s Open – a premier event on the LPGA Tour. The tournament was supposed to have been played at the Hunt Club the year before, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation.
As COVID restrictions began to loosen in 2022, the event was back on the Tour’s schedule, and was to mark the fourth time it was to be played at the historic Hunt Club. Excitement abounded, especially with news that hometown favourite Brooke Henderson would be in the field. But, a mere three months before the first tee shot was hit, disaster struck. The Ottawa area found itself at the epicentre of a severe storm on May 21 in which Mother Nature unleashed her fury with hurricane-like winds that clocked in at upwards of 120 kilometres an hour.
Countless trees in the capital region were uprooted, snapped in two or had branches broken off and strewn everywhere. Unfortunately for the Hunt Club, it didn’t escape Mother Nature’s wrath.
The club was left with a major mess on its hands with its biggest event in five years looming only a few months away. Superintendent Eric Ruhs and assistant Bobby Cook immediately got to work co-ordinating a massive cleanup job. The pair shared the stage in November at the 32nd annual Ontario Seed Company/Nutrite professional turfgrass seminar to tell the story of the club’s efforts to clean up the damage and have the golf course ready for the women’s open.
It wasn’t an easy task, they told a roomful of their peers in Waterloo. Because damage from the storm was so widespread, the golf club was only one of several institutions in the Ottawa area vying for support staff to assist in cleanup efforts. Ontario Hydro, for example, “carried a bigger stick” and was first in line to gain the assistance of local tree care companies to cut and remove damaged trees.
“It was difficult to get support staff,” Ruhs acknowledged, adding it was “out of the question” to gain the assistance of any nearby tree care businesses. He reached out to colleagues in the Toronto and Montreal areas to seek help with the cleanup and alerted Golf Canada about the extent of the damage as time was now of the essence.
When the storm hit, the Hunt Club was amid a bunker resurfacing project at the tournament course with plans to have the job finished by the end of May. Only a quarter of the work was completed, having begun the previous year, and key decisions needed to be made about where the project ranked among the list of priorities.
Cook said the back nine bunkers would be given greater attention since most of the televised coverage of the tournament would be focused on holes 10 through 18. Removing and hauling away the fallen and broken trees was top priority, not only to minimize damage to the course, but to ensure safety was at the forefront.
The club’s maintenance staff and a team of volunteers, including members, were divided up and assigned to the tournament course (West and South courses) to do everything possible to save bentgrass, and to the nine-hole North course to clear debris from the fairways.
Four greens experienced some damage, with the putting surface on the second hole covered by four fallen trees. Damaged trees were also lying in a greenside bunker.
The road leading to the club’s pumphouse – located 1.2 kilometres away – was blocked, restricting access. Ruhs said that once he finally reached the pumphouse, he discovered there was no power available. A generator was needed quickly, but the club was seen as low priority. A brand-new generator was eventually procured, but voltage differentiations prevented it from working properly.
Ontario Hydro said it likely couldn’t tend to the club’s needs for at least 10 days. Six days had already elapsed since the storm hit when it was realized the generator wasn’t functioning. Ruhs opted to plug the generator into the clubhouse and connect it to the fire system, allowing for a handful of nearby greens to be irrigated.
“By day seven, Hydro said they could help, and said they’d arrive by 4 p.m.,” Ruhs said. The utility reached the club hours later – at 1:30 – but arrived at the wrong address (the clubhouse, not the meter address). It wasn’t until noon on the eighth day after the storm when the Hunt Club’s water became operational again, sparking “a euphoric cheer.”
Safety was still a priority, he said, and a bucket truck arrived from Kingston to go treeline to treeline
“The strong support we got from the industry was immeasurable,” Ruhs said, noting many of the volunteers came from within the industry. “Our primary target was to remain safe.”
The golf course was closed for 16 days to allow sufficient time for cleanup. Although it was initially estimated that 500 trees were damaged, the count was about 1,100. Logs were still being hauled off the course by the 13th day after the storm.
Cook said it was important to properly manage the cleanup team throughout the process and stick to a schedule. Seasonal employees were rotated on a six-days-on, three-days-off basis.
“We tried to stick to that schedule as much as we could,” he said. Incentives were offered for those who worked overtime or on their days off, and lunches were provided for the volunteers and staff.
Many of the club’s routine maintenance practices were “kyboshed,” Cook said, with core aeration on tees and fairways going by the wayside on the North course. Only the greens underwent any cultural work.
The original plan was to core aerate the tournament course’s tees twice prior to the women’s open, but it was done only once. Fairways, which are typically aerated each season, were tended to according to their condition. Some emerged from the winter better than others, and those best judged to handle core aeration were looked at first.
Tending to other trees
About 250 trees that had fallen into the yards of neighbouring residences along the east end of the property were cut and removed over a period of two and a half days. A 90-ton crane was utilized more for its reach than its strength to haul fallen trees back onto the golf course and taken to a staging area.
As the property’s east end was being cleaned up, crews had to deal with remaining stumps at the tournament course.
“This was no small feat, and all the tree companies were preoccupied with housing and hydro concerns, so we were dealing with the challenge of getting support to help us,” Ruhs said.
Managers from a tree company with which the Hunt Club has previously worked came in on a Saturday, taking out 150 stumps – one at a time – and grinding down another 270.
A road bordering the south edge of the property – a stretch of about 1.8 kilometres – also sustained heavy damage, and fallen trees needed to be removed from the roadside to ensure safety.
“The problem wasn’t losing 1,000 trees,” Ruhs said. “It was the volume and the timing and surgically removing that off the property and not leaving a mark on the tournament course.”
The volume of the logs and mulch produced at the east end of the golf course property was astronomical, he said, and much of it was still there at the time of his and Cook’s presentation in November. Plans were to bring in grinding equipment to help finish the job before Christmas.
Ruhs said the pile of mulch measured about 250 feet in length, 60 feet in width and 28 feet in height.
“The volume of material was just incredible.”
The rough program hadn’t significantly changed throughout the process.
The 2022 CP Canadian Women’s Open set an attendance record with upwards of 75,000 spectators and was named LPGA tournament of the year.
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