Darrell Hull wasn’t taking any chances.
A few weeks ago five lightning strikes at Prairie Falls Golf Club zapped computers, segments of the irrigation system and split a tree in half, puncturing a water line.
Prairie Falls went six days without computers and two days sans water as maintenance crews rebuilt sprinkler boxes and repaired other damage. When Hull, the course manager, heard of a storm approaching last Sunday he hopped in his car.
“I came over at 8 that night,” he said, “and unplugged everything and shut down the computers.”
The storm didn’t hit North Idaho courses as hard as others in the region, but it was another forceful reminder of Mother Nature’s influence on the Inland Northwest golf community.
Chewelah pro Jason Pitt received a text Sunday night from his mom, who lives in north Spokane, about a nasty storm heading his way. The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was Chewelah’s turn to host the weekly pro-am, with tee times beginning at 7:20 a.m. Monday.
Pitt lost power at his house as the storm blew through but his main concern was the condition of Chewelah’s 27 holes. Crews counted 18 pine trees leveled on the 18 holes to be used in the pro-am. Six or seven trees toppled like dominos on one hole, a couple striking homes.
“Our superintendent was out driving the course before daylight, checking out damage and prioritizing which trees needed the most attention,” Pitt said.
The course was deemed safe and playable. Maintenance staff and a handful of homeowners began dealing with the trees and finalizing the course set-up. Pro-am tee times were delayed by only 30 minutes.
“They did an amazing job getting it ready,” Pitt said. “The big trees were sawed up or pulled off to the side and marked as ground under repair. The biggest issue was we played lift, clean and place because of the debris – pine cones, twigs, and needles all over the place. There was a little chunk of the 18th green that got taken out, but no real lasting damage.”
The storm only lasted 15-20 minutes but winds approaching 60 mph were too much for some trees.
“What made this one strange is when we lose trees it’s usually a sudden wind from the north,” Pitt said. “This was from the south.”
Pitt recalled a summer storm roughly five years ago that dropped 100 trees just before Chewelah’s annual Chataqua tournament.
About 30 miles to the south, Deer Park Golf Club lost eight trees to high winds.
“They were kind of in places that don’t come into play much,” pro Craig Schuh said, “but it’s hard to grow those trees. It does make a difference as far as looks go.”
Weather conditions “dictate everything,” Schuh said. “It’s a little different now because I lease the place. Before I never really worried about it, when you had a bad day you had a bad day. Now it’s, ‘Holy cow.’ ”
Forecasts that include even a slight chance of rain are sometimes enough to keep picky players at home. That impacts a course’s bottom line.
“It seems different the last couple years,” Schuh said. “If they say there’s a 30 percent chance of rain we’re just dead. The forecasters should say 70 percent chance of sunshine instead because that sounds better!”
It didn’t sound very good to Hull when he received a call from the police a few weeks ago about water running down Spokane Street adjacent to Prairie Falls. He figured a sprinkler head was stuck but further inspection revealed extensive damage from an overnight storm.
In addition to trashing computers and sprinkler boxes on five holes, three trees struck by lightning will have to be removed. No. 14 had a couple feet of standing water and a bunker was washed out.
Thanks to the efforts of the maintenance crew, Prairie Falls was able to open at 10 a.m. but the pro shop had no way of verifying who had made tee times. The staff did the best they could to get customers on the course. Hull estimated $2,500 in lost green fees and revenue that morning. The storm’s total tab was roughly $75,000.
“Computers were our sole way of doing things,” said Hull, mentioning watering schedules and taking tee times. “We had to learn how to do it old school with a blank sheet of paper and writing down names. Some of the younger ones on the staff had never seen a tee sheet.”