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Floods devastate NSW and Qld Golf Courses

Mar 29, 2021

As if we haven’t had enough! Bushfires in late 2019 and early 2020 followed by flooding. Then COVID-19 gripped the country iduring 2020 and it still lingers. Now many courses along Australia’s Eastern Seaboard are mopping up after experiencing some of their worst flooding for decades.

It has been a devastating week for golf and sports turf managers, turf producers and their crews along the eastern seaboard of Australia, with some incredible rainfall tallies and flooding laying many facilities to waste. Among some of the worst affected were golf courses and turf production farms adjacent to the Hawkesbury River out in Windsor west of Sydney, as well as golf courses, like Nambucca Heads, on the NSW mid-North Coast. Nambucca alone recorded a staggering 1080mm of rain over an eight day period. Over the past week, Australian Turfgrass Management Journal editor Brett Robinson has been in contact with a number of superintendents up and down the coast to see how their facilities have fared. The following is a snapshot of what has been a week many will long remember for all the wrong reasons! We thank Breff for allowing ausgolf to report this news to our readers.


Above - Drone image courtesy of Lynwood Country Club showing the extent of this week's flooding, its second in 12 months. Parts of the course were under by 8m.


Both Lynwood Country Club and Windsor Country Club, which as the crow flies are situated 5km from each other either side of the township of Windsor, have gone under for the second time in 12 months. Flood waters were slowly receding but large parts of both courses still remain inaccessible. Both superintendents – Nathan Ball (Lynwood) and Jeff McManus (Windsor) say this week’s event far exceeds that of 12 months ago and are now awaiting with great trepidation as the waters drop and the scale of damage is slowly revealed.

“I really don’t know how we are going to get through this,” laments McManus. "The guys are holding up okay, but it’s not good here. We just had our first green (spare) pop up out of the water today (Friday) and we have just finished washing all the silt and rubbish off it. We still need the water levels to come down around 1.2m to see a few more pop up, then we can start going about trying to save as much bent grass as possible. We are hoping we won’t lose any greens but the water is still very high and the water quality is terrible.

"Getting access to the course has been difficult. We only got to the machinery shed for the first time today (Friday). The five greens that didn’t go under, the boys had to access them through a neighbour’s fence.”


Above - Much of Windsor Country Club is still flooded nearly a week after water started inundating the property.

A video shared on Facebook by former Lynwood superintendent and now club general manager Matt Bailey on Wednesday showed the dramatic extent to which their course had been flooded. According to superintendent Ball, the clubhouse, pro shop and maintenance facility were spared, but the cart shed went under (all carts were moved to higher ground) as did most of the course, up to 8m in parts. The putting green is salvageable but as for the rest of the course that will remain to be seen. The clubhouse and maintenance facility also became a staging ground for nearby turf producers, including Dad and Dave’s Turf and Evergreen Turf, who hastily transported their machinery and equipment to higher ground as their farms were quickly inundated when the Hawkesbury River started to flood.

“The water has dropped a little and the staff that can get there have started the clean up today (Friday), but half of the staff still can’t get to the course as both bridges are still not accessible,” says Ball. “All we can do is just wait for the water to drop, then start at the highest point of the course and work back cleaning up and removing all the silt and rubbish off our greens first and then prioritise the other surfaces after that.”

Dunheved Golf Club, which was also impacted by last February's floods, was again awash this week, but superintendent Luke Sligar thankfully reports that the extent wasn’t as severe this time around. "The whole place went under, but all greens are above now and looking positive. We are hoping to get the course open sometime next week."

Mark Williams at nearby Richmond Golf Club was thankfully in a much better spot but was feeling for his counterparts just a few kilometres to his east… “We are all good,” says Williams. "Considering the massive amount of rain, we only had localised flooding across five fairways and bunker washouts. No greens were under water. Thankfully we don’t have a creek running through the course or beside it, otherwise it would be a very different story. We are very lucky where we are and you feel for Jeff and Nathan and their crews."

As well as the damage sustained at golf clubs, both Turf Australia and Turf NSW report that many turf production farms along the banks of the Hawkesbury River in the Windsor area are still under water. Owners are waiting for waters to recede to ascertain the damage, which could have a significant impact on both domestic and commercial turf supplies over the next 12 months.

“What the impact to the farms and future stock will be, that’s the million dollar question at the moment,” says Turf Australia’s market development manager Jenny Zadro. “There will definitely be impacts to the supply of turf in NSW, but until the waters subside we won’t know to what extent. Heading into the cooler months will mean that any new turf won’t grow quickly. Once water has subsided turf producers will assess their farms to see the extent of damage to the crops and manage the silt and debris that will be left behind. They will also have to review damage to machinery, equipment and supplies. It will be a tough road ahead.”


Nambucca Heads Island Golf Club superintendent Greg Jager could never have predicted that after taking over as superintendent there in the latter half of 2020 that he would be impacted by two severe floods just four months apart. Sadly, after copping an incredible 1080mm of rain over an eight day period, the Nambucca course, which resides on an island in the Nambucca River, was swamped this past week with all but four greens spared. While the flood experienced just before Christmas was relatively clean (that flood occurred after a seemingly meagre 500mm by comparison), this past week’s event has been anything but as the photos below graphically indicate

“It has been quite an initiation,” reflects Jager on the two major flood events. “I’ve dealt with floods before – here in December and when I was at RACV Royal Pines – but they were clean. This is the first time where I have had to contend with major silt deposits across most of the surfaces up to six inches deep.
“We finally got access across the causeway to the course on Wednesday and since then we have been pushing mud. We have managed to get all the greens cleaned off over the past couple of days, but I think we may lose 3-4 which have been under water and silt for the best part of seven days now. I don’t think the bent grass will bounce back from that. We will put the ProCore over them on Monday, get some air into them, re-seed and see what strike we get. I managed to get a mower on 10 greens yesterday but it took me eight hours as access was difficult because of the wet ground – I had to be towed by tractor to a couple of them!
“We’ve had some great support from the local community as well as local clubs. We had the guys from Coffs Harbour down this morning (Friday) helping to remove silt out of the bunkers and clean up a few fairways where we still had some water laying around. On Monday the guys from Bonville are coming down to help with Procoring the greens.
“One of the local guys who owns a civil firm has done a great job on the fairways. He brought in a skid steer to help move the silt off, but has now brought in a different machine which is almost like a snowplough with a 3m wide bucket and 1m wings on it. He managed to finish three fairways yesterday and we now have just five left to do. It has been a tremendous help.”

At South West Rocks Country Club, about 30km south of Nambucca Heads as the crow flies, superintendent David Hobday was forced to set up temporary residence inside the club’s maintenance facility after flood waters cut off access to the township and his house. Hobday spent from last Friday until yesterday camped inside the shed. Over a 10-day period the course recorded 870mm of rain, taking Hobday’s tally since 1 December 2020 to 2210mm.

“The course has been closed all week but is now open to walk traffic only,” says Hobday. “We still have a couple of holes closed. I haven’t mowed fairways and rough for two weeks as it is way too soft for any big machinery. The sun has been out for the past three days which has been a welcome change.”

At Kew Country Club, about 30km south of Port Macquarie, superintendent Brendan Hansard had 790mm over a seven day period, including one 24-hour period of 277mm. Remarkably the course was back open yesterday and the crew were even able to mow some fairways and rough.

“We’re lucky our greens don’t go under in flood events, it’s more just the usual bunker washouts,” explains Hansard. “The course should look good for the weekend and hopefully we can have carts on. The biggest problem we have though is the pump shed which went completely under (see photos above). We lost three pumps, two VFDs and pump controller. Hopefully we’ll have one new pump installed tomorrow but until then we are having to use a 1000L shuttle to put water out (see photo below).

Nearby Wauchope Country Club also copped an absolute drenching, with nearly 800mm recorded according to Richard Moore. “The bulk of that rain fell between 6am Friday and 7am Saturday. Our rain gauge was overflowing. Some parts of the Hastings recorded 400mm plus for that 24-hour period. It continued up until Tuesday. We have had gravel paths wash away, one of our bridges has had some minor damage and undermining of the footings not to mention the proverbial bunker washouts. We have been closed since last Thursday, both golf and bowling greens. Having said that, we are doing better than some others. North at Kempsey and south at Taree have fared much worse."

At Forster Tuncurry Golf Club, Tuncurry superintendent Mark Spraggs recorded 553mm since Friday 19 March, taking the total since 17 February to 782mm. “It has certainly been wet,” says Spraggs. “The course is okay but the water table is up which has completely shut five of our holes and over the past two days it has not moved despite the clear warm conditions (see photo below). It could be some time before it drops enough to open the course up which has never happened here being on straight sand.”

Further south at Nelson Bay Golf Club, just north of Newcastle, superintendent Greg Stynes and his crew have had a big week of cleaning up but will have the course ready for play tomorrow (including carts) thanks to some fine weather and a nice northwest breeze in recent days, a stark contrast to the previous 10. “We ended up with 658mm of rain over 10 days. We held up fairly well despite the rain and fortunately with our sand base the course dries up pretty quick. We had several washouts around the course on bunkers and pathways/roadways etc and were closed from last Thursday with considerable water movement across the property.”


Coolangatta and Tweed Heads Golf Club superintendent and ASTMA president Peter Lonergan reported 461mm of rain since last Friday night which takes the course to 1129mm year-to-date. Updating members every day throughout the events of the past week on his course maintenance blog, Lonergan noted;

“We have been pumping since Wednesday and most of the water has now gone, although there are some areas where water is still standing that I don’t recall seeing this much before, especially so long after it has stopped raining. The good news is that both courses are open for walking only today and carts should be good for the River on Saturday depending on how well the West dries out tomorrow.

“It was nice to see a clear radar on Wednesday after a further 70mm in the previous 24 hours.  461mm of rain (18.5 inches) has fallen since Friday night which takes us to 1129mm this year and 1687mm since December 1, 2020.

“And while we lament what has happened at Cool Tweed during this weather event, spare a thought for those courses further north on the coast.  I saw some photos and videos yesterday and the damage will be significant and take months to recover from. Once the water starts pouring down Mudgeeraba Creek with rain from the hinterland, The Glades is the first to go under, then Colonial and then Lakelands.  They are ‘dirty floods’ too with a lot of silt and debris being deposited on the courses, not to mention the damage from the fast flowing water.  And The Grand GC wasn’t spared either with huge volumes of water cascading down the Nerang River and inundating large parts of their course as well, not to mention Murwillumbah who are well and truly under again."


Above - Palmer Colonial's 18th hole before and during this week's flooding rains

True to Lonergan’s words both The Glades and Palmer Colonial took major hits. Colonial superintendent Mark Hauff sent through the images above showing the 18th fairway before and after what would eventually be more than 335mm of rain from Sunday. The Glades superintendent Glenn Gibson-Smith was also lamenting the events that transpired this week and the damage wrought (see photos below).

“It’s the worst in my time here and we’re pretty flat to be honest,” says Gibson-Smith. “It was the best the course had been at this time of year and now we have to start again. That’s five floods in 13 months now, but this one takes the cake."


Last year the NSW Open had to be postponed due to the COVID pandemic and while that wasn’t in the conversation again this week, the weather impacting NSW certainly presented a few challenges for superintendent Chris Howe and his team at host club Concord in Sydney.

The course copped 390mm of rain in the days leading up to yesterday’s first round, with both course dams at 100 per cent capacity (pictured below is the course last Saturday). Thankfully all greens and bunkers were unaffected, but due to the wet conditions the Tuesday and Wednesday Pro-Ams were cancelled, as was pre-qualifying which was supposed to start last Thursday. As it was, the field were only able to get in one practice round yesterday, with Howe and his team only able to cut tees and collars for the first time Wednesday afternoon. After a fine day in Sydney yesterday, when The Cut contacted Howe midway through the first round he was hoping to get the fairway mowers out in the afternoon.

Despite the wet lead-up, you would not have known as the field set about taking Concord apart in round one, with more than 25 players bettering the previous course record of 67 held by Ewan Porter. Blake Windred topped that group with a 7-under 64 to lead by one shot into today’s second round, commenting afterwards that “The greenkeepers have done an amazing job. It’s almost like there hasn’t been any rain to be honest.”


Above - Concord GC. Amazingly the clean up was sorted and the NSW completed on time