A hot tub on the 18th green? After Hurricane Ian, damage assessments begin on island courses

A hot tub on the 18th green? After Hurricane Ian, damage assessments begin on island courses
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It’s been more than a week since Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida, but the road to recovery for golf courses on the barrier islands, such as Sanibel and Captiva, remains long.

“Well, the island is still there … a lot of homes are still standing. In our case, we took a pretty devastating hit,” Mike Dopslaff, head professional at The Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, told the Fort Myers News-Press this past week.

The Dunes, located on the Northeast side of Sanibel, is one of two 18-hole courses on the island that were rocked by the Category 4 storm, which made landfall on Sept. 28 in Cayo Costa, Florida, a barrier island just north of Captiva and Sanibel islands. Sanibel Island Golf Club is the second course, located on the Southeast coast. A third club, The Sanctuary Golf Club, a private, 1992 Arthur Hills design, is a few miles north in Captiva.

With the Sanibel Causeway collapsing into the Gulf of Mexico and preventing automobile traffic, employees at these clubs begun taking boats onto the island last week to assess damage.

The initial finds: Massive storm surge left the course’s fairways, greens, tee boxes and bunkers under several feet of saltwater, turning the grass into a mucky mess and severely altering the topography, while 150 mph winds knocked down several trees and mangled other structures.

At The Dunes, a 1985 Mark McCumber design, the course’s iconic tree in the first fairway was uprooted, among many others. While the clubhouse still stands, that’s about it: There is severe water damage, ruining most everything inside. Eight inches of water rushed inside the pro shop, scattering clubs and other items. All the golf carts were destroyed.

And there is currently a hot tub sitting on the middle of the 18th green.

“Who knows, that might be a new feature on our 18th hole,” Brian Kautz, The Dunes’ general manager, told The First Call. “We’ve all got to have a sense of humor and hope.”

Kautz estimated that the course is “90-95% brown since Bermudagrass doesn’t tolerate salt water at all.”

“I walked out on the course when I first got there and a helicopter landed in our first fairway, which they’re using as a landing pad to get supplies in and set up a fire station,” Kautz added. “I found sets of rental clubs down the street from the cart barn.”

Gene Taylor, head professional at Sanibel Island Golf Club, the Truman Wilson and Bill Dietsch co-design that opened in 1976, described similar damage at his club to The First Call.

“Full of sludge and slippery,” he said of the fairways, which photos showed were also covered in various other debris. Another photo showed golf carts strewn about the property. Aerial footage revealed one hole mostly under water.

South Seas Golf Club, a nine-holer right on the northern tip of Captiva, had, per a photo taken (main photo above), at least one hole completely eroded away.

The course at Gasparilla Inn and Club, a 2004 Pete Dye design, is the closest barrier-island course north of the landfall site, in Boca Grande. According to the club’s website, the course sustained “significant damage” and would be closed indefinitely. Google Earth photos showed several areas of the course underwater.

With more important things to tend to in the immediate future – homes and businesses were either totally destroyed or badly damaged – the timetable for a return to golf on Sanibel Island is unknown.

But there will be, at some point, a return to golf.

“Once the shock wears off, and the inspiration I will get from bringing it back and overcoming the challenges…,” Dopslaff told The News-Press, “it will feel good when we open the doors and have someone teeing off that first tee again.”

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