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OUR EXPERTS EXPLAIN
Golf Course Recovery From Flooding September 7, 2018 By Steve Kammerer, regional director, Southeast Region

Salt damage that occurs from coastal flooding can result in lasting agronomic issues for soil and turfgrass alike.

Hitting a big drive down the middle of the fairway is a great feeling. Seeing that your ball bounced backwards from where it landed in the fairway; not so much. Soft conditions and getting only a yard or two of bounce and roll from tee shots are common after golf courses experience heavy rain. These conditions can be even more severe if flooding occurs.

In addition to impacting playing conditions, floods can cause some serious damage that leaves a lasting impact on golf courses. Extreme weather events such as hurricanes, thunderstorms, ice storms, blizzards, and rapid snow or ice melt can cause severe flooding. Floodwaters and saturated conditions also can severely inhibit daily maintenance and access to many areas of a golf course.

When submersed for long periods, grass is deprived of oxygen and begins to die. Further, damage can be magnified if floodwaters contain salt water or contaminate irrigation ponds. In severe situations, removing the soil and reestablishing turf may be required to remedy flood-affected areas. Materials to alleviate sodium and chloride damage may also be required. Beyond the damage caused by floodwater, deposits of silt, rock and debris can prevent routine maintenance and take weeks or even months to clear.

Flooding can also damage golf course structures and other features. Floodwaters can wash away bridges and damage the floors and walls of buildings. Bunkers are especially susceptible to erosion, collapsed faces and sand contamination when floods occur. Repairs may require days, weeks or even months to complete and can cost thousands of dollars per bunker. Even if bunkers are lined, have drainage systems and are shaped to divert water away from the sand, they may still experience severe damage during flooding. It is worth considering the removal or renovation of problematic bunkers, especially in the aftermath of a flood, to reduce future maintenance and repair costs.

Water flow into bunkers can cause structural damage that requires costly repairs.

If flooding causes power outages or irrigation system damage, the capability to deliver water will be diminished. Even after heavy rainfall or flooding, most putting greens will quickly dry out without supplemental irrigation. Drought-stressed putting greens should not be mowed or played if the irrigation system has been rendered inoperable by flooding. Holding off from mowing will reduce stress and moisture loss from putting greens, improving recovery once floodwaters subside.

If a golf course reopens too soon after flooding, the likelihood of secondary damage increases. Saturated turf areas can be compacted and rutted by cart traffic as well as concentrated foot traffic. Compacted soil in wet areas can lose its structure, porosity and ability to support high-quality turf.

There are actions a golf course can take to limit damage in advance of severe weather, but in the case of flooding the destructive power of water is difficult to fully mitigate. After a flood, the maintenance staff needs time to address damaged areas, so be patient while the course is returned to a desirable playing quality.

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