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Renovation of flooded Calgary course now becomes 18-hole restoration project

July 30, 2013  By  Mike Jiggens

Calgary-area golf superintendents will not forget the summer of 2013 anytime soon. Torrential rains which hit the southern part of Alberta on June 19 resulted in massive flooding as both the Bow and Elbow rivers spilled their banks, wreaking havoc on residential neighbourhoods, business zones and golf courses.

The Calgary area wasn’t the only region in Alberta to experience devastating flood waters. Fort McMurray was the first municipality to be affected, a full week ahead of the calamity in Calgary, and both the High River and Canmore areas suffered extreme levels of damage.

In all, about 10 golf courses in the Calgary area were affected by flooding to one degree or another. At the extreme end, both Kananaskis Country courses—Mount Kidd and Mount Lorette—have been shut down for at least the remainder of the season after the worst flooding in Alberta’s history tore a swath through the property, leaving channels as deep as six feet and 20 feet wide in some areas. Kidd’s ninth green and Lorette’s 18th green were eight feet under water during the flood’s peak.

Both Kananaskis courses are annually ranked among the top 100 golf courses in Canada. Twenty-nine of their 36 greens had undergone a full renovation over the past year and were in tiptop condition prior to the flood.

The Glencoe Golf & Country Club, a 45-hole facility, was ready to reopen its newly-renovated Forest course on June 29. The 18-hole renovation project got underway back on Aug. 1, 2011 under the supervision of architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. The extensive project kept the course closed for play for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012. The anticipated date of its long-awaited reopening was less than two weeks after the Elbow River spilled its banks.

“It’s now undergoing an 18-hole restoration,” said superintendent Kerry Watkins.

Club officials are hopeful that nine of the Forest course’s holes can reopen for play before the close of the 2013 season, but its progress will be carefully monitored to ensure it is absolutely ready.

Watkins said 43 of Glencoe’s 45 holes were impacted by the flooded river which also adversely affected its practice facility, turf care centre and other on-course buildings. From his perspective, the overall impact of the flood was more of a “major nuisance” than one of complete devastation to the degree experienced at Kananaskis. In fact, he considers himself fortunate there was little in the way of significant damage to the course.

“Water came in quick and it left quick and left a trail of silt.”

Silt cleanup was regarded as perhaps the most time-consuming aspect of the post-flood recovery effort, but all 27 holes of the Meadows course (Lakes, Slopes and Bridges nines) as well as the practice facility reopened for play 22 days after flood waters had receded.

Watkins said not much water had to be pumped from the course as nature did most of the work itself.

Flushing silt away in order to get 27 holes into play was a task which benefited from the efforts of not only Watkins’ staff, but employees from other departments at the club as well as member volunteers. With the course shut down for three weeks, staff from other departments were able to assist in the cleanup effort.

“Without those efforts, we wouldn’t have been able to open in the timeline in which we did,” Watkins said.

“Working in silt and hauling is an undertaking. We had the network base there to have some manpower.”

Upwards of about 150 people at a time were available to work directly on flood recovery efforts. Utilizing member volunteers also allowed Watkins to assign members of his grounds maintenance staff to work on specific turf care tasks.

The volunteers were mainly armed with hoses to move silt away from the playing surfaces and to ensure those areas were as clean as possible.

“The man hours spent on it was frightening,” Watkins said.

A plan of action was enacted the moment it was apparent the river’s rising water level was going to adversely impact the golf course. Watkins said several telephone calls were made immediately to look after such key considerations as securing 100 acres of sod and obtaining a trailer to serve as a temporary lunchroom for his staff. He said he was lucky to obtain one of the last available trailers in the area.

Dealing with silt is a never-ending process, Watkins said, unless affected areas are completely stripped and resodded. He said Glencoe is still seasons away from getting where he’d ideally like to see it, “but we can’t get lost as to where we want to be in 2016. It’s about the present.”

The plan remains to continue to knock off items on the club’s “to do” list on a daily basis.

“If I was to worry about 2016 right now, I wouldn’t have a life, I wouldn’t have a wife, and it wouldn’t be healthy all around.”

Watkins said he personally worked about 30 consecutive days since the beginning of the flood without a single day off. He and his staff have since been working six-day weeks to keep on top of flood recovery efforts.

“You can’t thank the efforts of the turf management team here enough. The one thing we did do was control what we can control. Putting a schedule to our time was a must.”

The flood had hit the golf course on a Thursday and silt removal efforts began on the greens the following Saturday.

“We didn’t wait a minute. As soon as we could access it (the course) and it was safe, we acted. The plan started unfolding pretty quickly.”

The plan of attack was to get the greens, tees, fairways and aprons “low cut clean” as quickly as possible to allow play to resume and to begin to generate a flow of revenue. Bunkers were also addressed in the plan, but some rough areas were placed on the back burner until the key “in play” areas were tackled first.

Although 27 holes reopened for play in July, there was still some peripheral work to be done on the Meadows course, including tee sites and rough areas in some highly-playable areas “where we’ll have to go back in and do the full meal deal of prep, strip and resod.”

Watkins said he estimates about 20 acres will require resodding, whether it will be done later this season or next spring. He said the pending work is an extension of the ongoing “silt mission” or “the project that will never end.”
Sod work is expected to continue into 2015, he said, and perhaps into 2016 as well. In-play areas will be dealt with first before moving outward.

“Our hands are full with the path we’re on, but at least we’re on a path.”

Watkins began working at Glencoe in January 2012 after coming from Winnipeg’s St. Charles Golf Club. Upon his arrival, the renovation of the Forest course was well underway. Work began late the previous summer with a complete overhaul of the course from tee to green.

Everything was stripped, all bunkers were redone, all greens were rebuilt and repositioned, and yardage was added to lengthen the course to 7,500-plus yards from the championship tees. Infrastructure improvements were also made, including drainage and irrigation where affected by the repositioning of greens.

Up to 70 acres of Kentucky bluegrass went down, Watkins said.

“From the greens back, it was all resodded back to the tee.”

All greens were reshaped and given new surrounds.

The improved drainage system on the Forest course became silt-filled in the aftermath of the flood. Flushing it out became an immediate priority.

Where possible, the existing irrigation system was left intact. During the renovation process, if a cut-and-fill was to compromise the system, it was something which needed to be addressed.

“You cut through the pipe or fill, it’s going to be way too deep to repair if we had a break.”

In 2011, six holes of the Forest course had been completed, with the exception of greens sodding, and the remainder were finished in 2012, leaving only the finishing touches to be done in the early part of 2013.
Watkins said he was aware of the risks associated with the golf property site when he was hired—that being located on a flood plain—and understood that flooding took place about once a decade. Glencoe previously dealt with flooding in 2005, but the impact that year wasn’t nearly as damaging as the June 2013 flood.

In 2005, Glencoe’s turf maintenance facility took on no additional water. In June, about 18 inches of water made its way into the building. Watkins said as of mid-July he was still assessing the extent of damage to his equipment’s bearings and reels which were exposed to the foot and a half of water.

“It’s been an emotional roller coaster ride, but, at the end of the day, there are more pressing things going on than a golf course taking on flood water,” he said, noting the many homes and businesses in the area which suffered extensive damage.

Watkins said he has been able to learn from the flood, suggesting that common sense be utilized to avoid such future measures as putting in a new bunker or other feature along a water corridor.

“You minimize or mitigate the next flood. Square footage saved on a bunker being wiped out just screams dollars. Returfing is easy.”

To put the flood damage experienced at Glencoe into perspective, Watkins said it’s less of a challenge than dealing with winter kill.

“There’s time to react to this flood going forward. Winter can still wipe out everything.”

Watkins said the greens which have reopened for play are of good quality, considering their setback. Fairway turf which wasn’t impacted by the flood is of excellent quality, he said. The golf course essentially received a two-to-three-week rest in the middle of summer.

“The Elbow River kicked us in the junk, and now our plan is to kick the Elbow River in the junk accordingly to get her back.”

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