By Mike Jiggens
THEâ€ˆ2013 and 2014 golf seasons dealt a tremendous one-two punch to the Markland Wood Golf Club in Toronto, but on each occasion it got back up, dusted itself off and continued forward.
Superintendent Owen Russell spoke in detail of the challenging back-to-back seasons last December at the 26th annual Ontario Seed Company-Nutrite Professional Turfgrass Seminar in Waterloo, noting in spite of the setbacks incurred, Markland Wood is today a better golf course.
The second of the calamities occurred as a consequence of the devastating winter of 2013-2014 which didn’t single out Markland Wood. It was one of several golf courses in southern Ontario to suffer significant turf loss from a season of frigid temperatures and prolonged ice cover.
But what happened the previous season came out of left field and struck an unexpected blow to the golf course. And, when it thought it had gotten back up on its feet, the club discovered only a short while later that it still had unresolved issues.
Russell, who has been superintendent at Markland Wood for seven years following previous stints at Tottenham, Ont.’s Woodington Lakes Golf Club and Toronto’s Weston Golf Club, recalled how in June 2013 a deluge of 126 millimetres of rain over a six-hour period instantly flooded the golf course.
“Everything was just under water,” he said, adding it took him two hours that day to reach the golf course by car to inspect the damage in what normally would be a 20-minute commute.
The Etobicoke Creek, which comes into play on 13 of 18 holes, had completely spilled over from the downpour with water flooding onto the golf course as far as 30 yards from the creek’s banks.
The club had been preparing for a major women’s tournament prior to the heavy rainfall, and all efforts to have the course ready went for nought. On-course destruction included the washing away of bridge ramps and the overturning of cart paths.
Markland Wood had been designed in such a way that its tees and greens were perched above the flood line in order to avoid the full consequences of a significant flood. Only one green saw any water on it. The volume of rain incurred during that June period actually amounted to more than that experienced during Hurricane Hazel’s wrath in 1954—the last time the golf course had seen such a level of water damage.
The golf course has experienced flooding in other years and continues to expect it because of its position on the flood plain, but the property has usually drained well. June of 2013 was a different matter.
“We focused immediately on getting the water off the golf course,” Russell said.
Pumps had to be used because the high creek levels had compromised the course’s drainage system.
“We had debris everywhere.”
Shale accounted for a large portion of the debris which was deposited up onto the fairways.
The amount of damage was something that couldn’t be rectified immediately, Russell said.
Club officials were notified about the extent of the destruction which included significant bunker damage.
“We had trees we had planted that were nowhere to be found. We had trees that weren’t ours that landed on bridges. We were in a situation where we just had to put the place back together.”
He said one of his ramps had been blown out, severing access to a hole.
Work crews bared down to remove water off the golf course before focusing on silt removal. Drains were also snaked to help move excess surface water.
Restoration work was still ongoing by July 9 when extremely hot weather made the job uncomfortable. Bridges were being cleaned off to allow access to various locations on the golf course, and silt deposits continued to be washed off the fairways.
Russell said his irrigation system had been compromised with several sprinkler heads broken off and 10 of 20 satellite boxes completely submerged in water. Other losses included all hazard markers, tee blocks, benches and sign posts.
“Everything was gone.”
A sweeper borrowed from the neighbouring Donalda Golf Club was used to assist with the cleanup.
“We just focused on how we could get the golf course back together.”
A point was reached in which the club had to determine how it was going to pay for its cleanup and restoration efforts. Club officials carefully read through their insurance policy, and the company’s adjustor suggested to go ahead with everything that needed to be done. Virtually everything was covered.
Russell figured it was in his best interests to document the full extent of the damage. His assistant photographed each tee sign before obtaining images of every aspect of the damage on a hole-by-hole basis. By the time he had made the rounds of a full 18 holes, he had taken more than 800 photographs. Overwhelmed by the number of photographs, the insurance adjustor was given a good idea of the extent of the damage by the time he viewed images of the first six holes.
“We had fairways which were saturated, and the heat was ready to begin. We had disease pressure.”
Parts of the course bore gouges where various things had been dragged across the property.
Within six days of the deluge, the course was accessible.
R.J. Burnside &â€ˆAssociates visited the course to ensure all bridges would be safe for travel.
In spite of the voluminous amounts of water that flooded the course, the subsequent heat levels demanded water would have to be put back on once the necessary restorative sod was laid down.
The golf course was closed for nine days following the flood. During that time, several club members armed with shovels and rakes assisted in the cleanup process and witnessed first-hand the level of destruction.
Sprinkler heads had been caked in silt. Within six days, about 270 sprinkler heads had been swapped out, accounting for about 25 per cent of the total number of heads. Additionally, 10 new satellite boxes were flown in from California.
Russell said he wanted to return his damaged bunkers to a superior state than they were in prior to the flood. With a plan to restore them within the budget of the insurance company’s allotment, he said he saw an opportunity to put them the way the club wanted. Every bunker was scraped out and the bases compacted and outfitted with new drainage. Fifty-four truckloads of angular sand were brought in, and bunker renovations were completed in 18 days.
The club opened its front nine holes for play without any of its bunkers repaired while bunker work took place on the back nine. Once the back nine’s bunkers were completed, the front nine was closed and the back nine opened.
After 21 days, the entire golf course had reopened and was back to normal.
Russell said he went from 25 people working on the course in the days before the flood to prepare it for the scheduled women’s tournament to a crew of 97 by the following Monday to help get the property back on its feet.
Work to restore the cart paths was deferred until the fall.
Pythium had set in by July 16 due to the numerous areas of saturation. The cost of necessary chemical treatment for pythium was also covered by the golf course’s insurance policy. Russell said it was extremely important to go through the policy to see what was and wasn’t covered.
Sod obtained from Greenhorizons, including four acres of bentgrass and seven acres of Kentucky bluegrass, was also covered in the policy.
The sod was laid over 13 days. Russell said it was a “gutsy” decision to put down the bentgrass sod in the heat of July because of the need to keep it alive.
All of the work involved to restore the golf course to its previous state required additional time on the job for Russell’s staff. Hourly-rated staff were paid time-and-a-half for their efforts, and it was decided to provide salaried staff with the same perk since they would otherwise have earned their normal wages for almost twice the amount of work.
“It made it that much easier for them to put that much extra time in, and we showed them that we really cared about how much effort they were putting in.”
Insurance also covered business-interrupted losses and payroll. This allowed the necessary repairs to be covered as well as lost revenue during the shutdown period.
Haul routes onto the course, where sod and other materials were brought in, underwent wear and needed repair as well.
Russell said part of the trick for getting work done efficiently came by setting goals. The club used its pending member-guest day as the impetus for getting the work done in a timely fashion.
“Everyone was pushing really hard to get the golf course back to normal.”
On the day of the member-guest event, a presentation was made to show all participants how the golf course had transformed in a series of before-and-after pictures. Participants were duly impressed with the work that had taken place, Russell said.
An unexpected setback
Soon afterward, a 22-millimetre rain event occurred.
“Twenty millimetres is not a lot of rain, but two of our holes flooded.”
The ninth hole was back under water again, and so was the 11th.
The reason for the latest bout of flooding was the Etobicoke Creek was unable to move water.
“It was filled with shale.”
Deposits of shale had choked off the flow of the water which meant another problem would have to be resolved. Russell realized, however, that whenever work on the creek needed to be done in past years, a permit was required which constituted a waiting period of about eight months. His concern was that another rainfall of only 20 millimetres in the meantime would precipitate further flooding.
Russell spoke with his contact at the local conservation authority to apprise him of the situation, emphasizing the need for work to get underway as soon as possible without having to wait an extended period to obtain the necessary permit.
A planner, an engineer and a biologist were dispatched to the site for assessment. It was determined that at various turns along the creek there was too much material and no capacity for water.
A U-shaped channel with rocks incorporated into its design was engineered. Within four days, the creek was cleared out.
“They did an amazing job. They created an open channel for us, cleaned up all the banks and got the golf course back to where we could move some water. We can handle the rain.”
The creek work was put to the test in September when 1 1/2 inches of rain fell at the time of the club championship. The problem was solved, and there was no need to cancel carts.
A lot of positives emerged from the setback of the June 2013 flood, including new bunkers, Russell said.
“Things were looking good and we were in good shape.”
With the golf course back in tiptop shape by season’s end, both the membership and Russell and his staff had reason to be pleased.
By December, an ice storm led to extensive tree damage on the golf course. A list of the damages was made and reported to the greens committee.
“We knew what we were up against, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. You gather up your branches, turn them into chips and carry on, but the ice was our problem. It came and never left.”
That winter the golf course was in a situation in which it was covered in a thick layer of ice. Russell and his staff cracked the ice and gathered plugs, but a pungent smell beneath the ice had begun to tell the tale.
One green which had been converted to bentgrass a few years earlier looked good, but the remaining poa greens had not fared as well.
The 2014 season marked the club’s 50th anniversary, and there was much planned for the year.
With several other golf courses in the area experiencing the exact same setback, Russell joined many of his colleagues in the area to meet with the USGA green section’s Dave Oatis at St. George’s and Islington golf clubs to discuss the matter and talk about solutions. Oatis told the gathering that a bentgrass greens conversion was the only real answer if clubs could afford it.
Russell figured if he approached his board with options, they might choose a strategy he didn’t favour. Instead, he insisted sodding with MacKenzie Tyee creeping bentgrass was the only real option.
Fourteen greens were tackled at the same time with sod supplied by Greenhorizons. A practice and nursery green were also sodded.
Russell said he was confident in his greens mix and added his greens were provided with good surface drainage.
During the sodding process, Russell’s staff remained on top of them with a hose, and the irrigation system was up and running.
The first cut of the greens was at .200 inches and then to .185. Each week, they were taken down another .010 inches.
He said he was fortunate the greens were provided with a firm base underneath, ensuring there was no movement or settling so that machinery such as topdressing equipment could be accommodated.
The greens were punched twice with solid tines before they opened for play.
“Six weeks from the day they were sodded they were ready, and we were cutting them at .140.”
The Ladies’ Toronto Star Amateur tournament was scheduled two weeks from the course’s reopening and went off without a hitch. The greens were cut at .130 inches for the event.
“In one calendar year, we saw a lot of different diversity, but we made the most of it. We’re better for it now.”