Tropical Storm Nicole threatens Florida golf industry beaten by Ian

Tropical Storm Nicole threatens Florida golf industry beaten by Ian

ORLANDO – Tropical Storm Nicole, forecast to become a hurricane before making landfall somewhere Wednesday night or early Thursday morning in South Florida, threatens to bring potentially damaging high winds and heavy rains to hundreds – possibly thousands – of golf courses along the eastern coast of the US

The storm was over the Bahamas on Wednesday morning with sustained winds of 70 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 10 am report. It was forecast to reach the US somewhere just north of West Palm Beach near the golf hot spot of Jupiter, home to many golf professionals. The storm is then forecast to cross Florida toward a region just north of Tampa and into the Gulf of Mexico before curving to the northeast into Georgia.

The storm’s projected path is likely to change slightly, as most tropical systems do, making it difficult to predict exactly which specific areas will be greatly impacted. And while most attention is – and should be – focused on any potential human toll and the threat of general property damage, there definitely will be impacts to a Florida golf industry that already suffered greatly from Hurricane Ian in September.

The National Hurricane Center’s 10 am Wednesday projections for the path of Tropical Storm Nicole, which is forecast to become a hurricane before reaching Florida on Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 (Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center)

While Ian blasted Fort Myers and Florida’s southern Gulf Coast before crossing the state headed northeast, Nicole threatened to head northwest, crossing Ian’s path somewhere south of Orlando. While the greatest damage to golf courses is likely near landfall, there exists a serious threat where this week’s storm crosses paths with Ian’s track, making for a forbidding “X marks the spot” of potential flooding, tree damage and temporary closures in the center of the state.

In all, there are more than 1,200 courses in Florida. Except for those in the Panhandle to the northwest, few Florida course operators will escape some level of impact – ranging from a simple loss of tee time sales all the way to suffering catastrophic damage – from either Ian or Nicole. Because of Florida’s great amount of courses, more than one in 12 courses in all of the United States was impacted just by Ian.

Florida has hundreds of golf courses along Nicole’s projected path. Just among Golfweek’s Best ranking of top public-access courses in Florida, the storm’s landfall could impact PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens and its No. 8-ranked Champion Course (site of the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic each year) as well as the resort’s other courses; PGA Golf Club’s 14th-ranked Wanamaker Course and 21st-ranked Dye Course in Port St. Lucie; Trump National Doral Miami’s Blue Monster (No. 15); Turnberry Isle’s Soffer Course (No. 16) in Aventura; possibly the waterfront Crandon Park (No. 19) at Key Biscayne; and The Breakers’ Rees Jones layout (No. 22) in West Palm Beach.

Among top-ranked private courses in Florida near the projected landfall are No. 1 Seminole in Juno Beach; No. 4 John’s Island Club’s West Course in Vero Beach; No. 5 Indian Creek in Miami Beach; No. 6 The Bear’s Club in Jupiter; No. 9 McArthur in Hobe Sound; No. 10 Loblolly in Hobe Sound; No. 12 Medalist in Hobe Sound; No. 13 Pine Tree in Boynton Beach; No. 14 Trump International in West Palm Beach; No. 16 High Ridge in Lantana; and No. 19 Country Club of Florida in Village of Golf. Those are just the courses ranked in the top 20 among Florida’s private clubs – there are dozens more private courses near projected landfall.

Golf carts at Sanibel Island’s The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club caught fire Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022, several weeks after Hurricane Ian passed by. The Dunes suffered significant damage when Ian slammed in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28. (Photo by Mike Dopslaff/Special to USA Today Network)

As Nicole crosses the Florida peninsula, the projected path takes it just beyond Streamsong Resort, home to three highly ranked courses. As Nicole nears Tampa, it is likely to halt play in this week’s LPGA Pelican Women’s Championship at the private Pelican Golf Club in Belleair near the west coast of Tampa. Just down the street from Pelican is Belleair Country Club, where a major restoration is underway of that club’s Donald Ross-designed West Course. Farther north of Tampa, work is underway on a renovation to the two courses at World Woods, which recently was rebranded as Cabot Citrus Farms.

The storm’s effects already were felt with Wednesday-morning squalls north of the projected path near Orlando, where some courses are still recovering from Ian’s massive rainfall. Some courses in this area are still repairing washed-out bunkers and haven’t completely dried out more than a month after Ian passed not far to the south.

Anyone with golf travel plans this week to Florida should check with their air carrier to see if cancellations are in effect, as several airports in the Sunshine State have closed or will close Wednesday, with potential reopenings yet to be determined. Orlando International Airport announced it will close at 4 pm Wednesday, and several regional airports in Central Florida likewise have announced closures. Palm Beach County Airport in South Florida also announced a closure Wednesday morning. Other closures and extended delays are likely around the state.

As Nicole turns north after passing Tampa, its nearly 1,000-mile projected path will take it over central Georgia between Atlanta and Augusta, then into South Carolina and north along the Appalachian Mountains through North Carolina, Virginia, beyond Washington DC and toward New York before passing back into the Atlantic Ocean. With heavy rains likely and severe flooding possible, that projected path will hamper operations and possibly cause damage at more than a thousand golf courses along the way.

Even for golf courses that don’t suffer severe damage from floods, many layouts in year-round golf environments already have begun winterizing efforts, such as spreading rye grass that could be washed away in heavy rains. Results potentially include the expense of reseeding and a downturn in seasonal turf conditioning.

In Florida, the most likely damage will be downed trees and flooding. Many courses along Nicole’s projected path already are suffering from saturated ground in the wake of Ian, making it even more likely that root systems of trees are weakened and trees can topple. Not even counting the dozens of courses that suffered Ian’s greatest damage near Fort Myers, many others are still working to repair bunkers that were wrecked by more than a foot of rain in a 24-hour period – several courses just south of Orlando still have standing water along fairways from Ian.

Most course superintendents along the projected path will spend Wednesday and Thursday readying their courses for the rain and wind, moving loose items and even taking down signage. But there’s only so much that can be done – it’s impossible to board up a whole golf course. The days preceding a hurricane or tropical storm in Florida are always an uncomfortable period of scrambling, waiting, watching weather reports and hoping for the best.

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