A wicked week of weather and raging fires, ranging from tropical storms in Florida to the blazes in Colorado, has challenged golf course superintendents on multiple fronts.
The top image is from Andy Jorgensen, CGCS, at Top of the World Communities in Ocala, Fla., where sink holes on the golf course created major issues. In the same state, the famed No. 17 island green at TPC Sawgrass became a true island after the course was pounded with more than 14 inches of rain in a 51-hour period.
Gunkel, a nine-year GCSAA member and director of golf course maintenance at Kissing Camels Golf Course at Garden of the Gods Club in Colorado Springs, watched as wildfires (the second image above) came within one-half mile of the 27-hole facility on Tuesday. Today, troubles remain. The property is still in jeopardy as firefighters continue the fight.
Gunkel is putting up his own fight.
"My job is to protect the assets of the club," Gunkel tells GCM. "It kills me we're losing homes (more than 300 as of today in Colorado Springs) and the lives that are impacted by this. This golf club is my home, too. It's a part of me, what I do, who I am."
The golf course has been closed for play since 5 p.m. Tuesday, but Gunkel remains on site, monitoring lake levels, taking down the network system and removing it from the property just in case, watching helicopters that are airlifting water from four ponds on the golf course to help battle the fires.
Winds are Gunkel's biggest concern, because they catapult embers, which are active when they hit their final destinations. He was expecting severe winds today, and Gunkel can feel the gusts in more way than one.
"I was picking gravel out of my ear the other day," says Gunkel, who fears losing his maintenance facility, his home base for so many years.
On the other side of the country, they are recovering from Tropical Storm Debby. Besides TPC Sawgrass, numerous golf courses were battered, including Hernando Oaks Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla. The image here, forwarded to GCM by GCSAA Class A superintendent Bill Kistler of Tampa Palms G&CC, shows the ramifications from Debby. The flagstick proves there is a cup somewhere down there.
"We're finally drying out after getting close to 12 inches of rain," says Kistler, a 15-year member of the association. "The golf course was built on a wetlands swamp. It looked like a swamp again."
There are lessons learned in all of these cases, Kistler says. For instance, he could have taken measures to prepare for the tropical storm, including the application of a wetting agent to the golf course, because by yesterday he was witnessing the onset of disease.
In Colorado, Gunkel had no way of knowing a wildfire would infiltrate his world. No matter what arises, Gunkel believes he is prepared to tackle the challenge. This one, though, truly is daunting.
"I kind of signed up for this when I got into the profession," Gunkel says. "What is happening now all goes with it. I haven't lost any turf yet. We're in survival mode, and we'll do what we have to do."
Meanwhile, TPC Sawgrass is getting back to normal. The island green 17th (pictured to the left) doesn't look like this anymore. Tom Vlach, CGCS, says the golf course was in the middle of being closed for three weeks because of summer aerification practices when the tropical storms hit, so play was not affected.
"That green is holding up well," Vlach says. "There wasn't silt; just water. There shouldn't be any long-term damage there."