Hershey, Pa. – Number six on Hershey Country Club’s West Course is an intriguing little dogleg par-4 of 341 yards. It is one of those pleasant, benign-looking holes, so well designed by golf course architect Maurice McCarthy that it taunts even the best players into taking risks. In Tuesday’s morning round of the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, in fact, the hole was halved only three times out of 16 matches. There was a lone birdie, a solid three by Brenda Pictor of Marietta, Ga.
Almost exactly one year ago, on Sept. 9, 2011, the seemingly docile creek meandering in front of the tee and wandering down the right side of the fairway was transformed into a raging river, due to remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. More than seven feet of water flooded the hole and nearly obliterated it forever.
For any golf course, a flood is disturbing and costly. For Hershey Country Club, which was hosting a national championship in just 12 months, it was devastating.
But it was the sixth hole that helped forge a strong partnership between Hershey Country Club and the USGA Green Section. USGA agronomy services can be invaluable to courses around the nation and Keith Happ, USGA senior agronomist for the Mid-Atlantic Region, made six visits to the course while the restoration was in progress.
“They had 11 inches of rain in one day and 22 inches in 48 hours,” said Happ. “Number six was the low point on the course and the storm water collected there. When I got here, all you could see was the top of the flagstick.”
Mark Malasavage, golf course superintendent, had a mess to deal with. “Storm water blew three or four manhole covers right off. By Saturday, the sixth green was dead,” Malasavage said.
Renovation of the hole carried a stiff price tag of some $245,000. In addition, a pump station underwent $50,000 in repairs. Fortunately, insurance covered the costs. With a USGA championship scheduled for 2012, immediate action was required and the club hired an outside firm, Landscapes Unlimited, of Lincoln, Neb., to renovate the hole.
“The first time I saw it (after the storm), some of the rough was the only green on the hole,” Happ said. “The fairway was covered in silt, the green was lost and the bunkers were gone. We knew there was a distinct possibility we’d play it with a temporary hole or even have a 17-hole championship, but you don’t want to do that.”
The club had created a temporary hole on an area where Ben Hogan, the club’s former professional, had once practiced. It was serviceable enough for daily play, but would not have matched the standards of the rest of the course for the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.
Happ was consulted about sodding options on the fairway and green. A bunker renovation program was already underway throughout the course.
Timing, Happ said, was tricky. “We didn’t want the sodding to progress so fast that their grass would be lost in harsh weather prior to the championship. Weather and traffic would hurt juvenile grass.”
In late April, however, the project was taking shape, Malasavage said. “A month before, we were relieved we were going to make opening day over Memorial Day weekend.”
Just after the repaired sixth hole was reopened in June, Hershey Country Club was hit with another brutal storm. “That didn’t help,” said Malasavage. “We had straight-line winds and lost 200 trees, while a lot more trees were split.”
There is no evidence that this has not been a perfect course all along. The grass on the sixth green struggles a bit to keep pace with the quality of the club’s other 17 greens, but the putting surface is fine, suitable for the Senior Women’s Amateur.
“The crew has been marvelous in making that green perform like the other greens in this championship,” Happ said.
Today, the emerald grass on the sixth hole gleams in the sun on a perfect little par-4 hole that has a few teeth. Few would guess that a river raged here just 12 months ago.
Rhonda Glenn is a manager of communications for the USGA. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.