PEMERTON, British Columbia – The weather conditions atop Mount Currie in mid-October of 2003 provided all the ingredients necessary to stir up the Perfect Flood.
A heavy snowfall, followed by an unseasonable warming trend and nearly seven days of unrelenting rain sent water rushing down the side of the majestic mountain into the Green River.
Within a matter of hours, the normally placid river turned into a raging monster, washing violently out of its banks, over a berm and onto the Big Sky Golf and Country Club.
In a hotel room in Penticton, where he was attending the annual British Columbia PGA Buy Show, Dean Larsen woke up, logged onto to his laptop and checked the Big Sky webcam to see how his golf course was standing up to the rain.
What he saw was staggering.
“The entire property was under water,” recalled Larsen, the director of sales and business development at Big Sky, a scenic and wonderfully manicured layout that ranks among the finest in all of Canada. “It was awful.”
Realizing the severity of the situation, Larsen immediately packed his bags and attempted to return to the course, only to learn that the flood waters had washed out the Rutherford Creek Bridge, cutting off ground access to the area.
Larsen and the rest of his staff ended up flying into the course by helicopter. And upon arriving they witnessed the devastation first hand.
“The water was about 7 feet deep at the clubhouse,” Larsen said. “It had ripped all of the bridges on the course out of their foundations and they were all sitting on the fourth tee box.”
In addition, items from the flooded basement, loading dock and storage areas of the clubhouse – including a host of empty beer kegs – were floating about the course.
“We literally had to canoe into the clubhouse for a week straight,” Larsen explained. “And we used our canoe to travel around the property and pick up the items that were floating all over. There were kegs floating as far out as the fourth and fifth holes, so we literally tied all of them together and towed them back.”
While waiting for the flood waters to recede, Larsen and his staff worked inside the clubhouse, having pizza delivered daily to the front gate of the course, where someone would pick it up in a canoe and ferry it back to the clubhouse.
“Everyone was in remarkable good spirits,” Larsen recalled. “I mean, what do you do? You look at the situation and then deal with it the best way you can. It’s the sort of thing where people seem to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done with a kind of light-at-heart approach.”
Larsen said his biggest concern was getting the water off the course before it froze.
“It was fall, but with winter just around the corner we knew it could freeze at any time,” he explained. “And one of the biggest benefits to the facility was that we were able to get all of the water off the course inside of seven to 10 days.”
The next challenge was removing all of the silt and sediment the flood waters has left caked on Big Sky’s once-lush fairways, greens and tee boxes.
To that end, Larsen and a crew of between 40 and 50 that had been flown in from nearby Whistler reactivated the irrigation system that had been blown out and shut down for the winter earlier in the month. And with high-pressure hoses, squeegees, plastic shovels and a blade mounted on the front of an all-terrain vehicle, they pushed tons of mucky sediment into the nearest drainage area, water hazard or bunker.
The insurance claim submitted by the golf course to cover damages to everything from power carts to rental clubs topped $2 million, according to Larson.
But the most remarkable part of the massive salvage operation was the fact that the course re-opened for play on April 26, 2004, just 10 days later than it normally does each spring.
“And the only reason we were 10 days later was the result of having to redo the bunkers,” Larsen said. “We had loaded some of them up with so much silt that they were flush with the fairways, in some cases, and we had to wait until the spring to bring heavy equipment onto the property to clean them out and put down new sand.”
Not surprisingly, revenues were down that spring, but not because of the condition of the golf course.
“It was more the result of people’s perception after having heard and read about the flood,” Larsen said. “We did a Media Day in early May for a large number of media, and there were some great feature stories written on how the golf course had come back.
“But trying to reach every one and make them understand that the golf course was actually in phenomenal shape was difficult.”
It helped that Big Sky Golf and Country Club was selected to host the British Columbia PGA Championship last fall.
“The professionals and amateurs, alike, were just blown away by the condition of the golf course,” Larson said. “And then we later received our highest rating ever – 4½ stars – from Golf Digest and were listed among the top 20 courses in Canada, which is something, considering it was less than a year after the flood that we received all those accolades.”
Big Sky opened for play on April 16 this year and continues to challenge and amaze everyone who witnessed the devastation caused by the Perfect Flood of 2003.
“The course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it at this time of year,” Larsen said. “It’s just unbelievable.”
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