Northumberland Links golf club bounces back from 'devastating' Fiona storm damage
Seeing golfers out for the start of the season on May 5 was extra special for Northumberland Links superintendent John Mills, after staff worked through the winter to get the course into playable condition.
The course in Pugwash, N.S., suffered damage to so many trees during post-tropical storm Fiona last September, there were days he wasn't sure it would be possible.
A huge operation was needed to clean them up involving maintenance staff, volunteers and contractors running machinery. The cleanup campaign lasted eight months and continues today.
"I was putting on a brave face saying 'Oh yeah, we got this,'" he said. "It's kind of nice to see golfers back out enjoying themselves."
Mills, who is also the general manager, is into his 35th year with the club on the shores of the Northumberland Strait.
The past year presented a challenge on a scale he has never experienced before.
Thousands of trees were blown over by the storm which recorded winds approaching 180 kilometres per hour, creating scenes he described as "apocalyptic" when he arrived at the golf course the morning after.
"It was quite devastating, the scale, the scope of it, everything about it," he said. "The trees were just all laying down everywhere, laying on greens, laying in bunkers, laying across cart paths."
Some of the large forested areas that used to exist on the course have now disappeared. Holes that were lined by trees now have views of the ocean, which is now visible almost everywhere on the course.
Amazingly, the fairways and greens remained intact.
But after the initial shock of the damage, there is hope the reshaping of the course will present some new opportunities.
"And the view of the water, suddenly that whole experience changes and with the trees down, the the ground comes to life," Mills explained. "So we're quite excited. We think this is going to be tremendous and the beginning of a whole new chapter for our golf course."
There are plans to plant grass where some trees used to be.
Coastal erosion damage still to be assessed
Lots of other recovery work still needs to be done, including repairs to about three kilometres of golf cart paths damaged by heavy equipment that hauled out the damaged trees.
Storm surge also washed away part of the bank behind the green of the course's signature 13th hole called the Lobster Pot because boats can be seen during fishing season. An assessment of that damage and plans for a possible solution also need to be completed.
However, there is already an encouraging reaction from the members about the new look of the golf course.
"It's 100 per cent different and it presents a unique opportunity for the course because it has to be reshaped," said Bob Teale, a member since 2007. "And it's a wonderful opportunity for the members, we get a complete new course."
Many golf courses in the province suffered damage from storm Fiona although it appears the worst hit were in Pictou, Guysborough, Antigonish and Cape Breton, according to the Nova Scotia golf association.
Reopening is a relief for Brad Black, an assistant professional with Northumberland Links, who has been impressed so many people rallied around during the recovery effort.
"Everyone came and helped, members were out helping," he said.
"The maintenance crew could not have done a better job, it's going to look awesome."
Disaster relief funding application
The final repair bill will not be known for some time because work is ongoing, but the golf course is applying for provincial disaster relief funding.
"That application is looking to cover some restoration with the seeding and and trying to reclaim where the trees were so the maximum available is $200,000 on that which should be pretty close to what we would need," Mills said.
On top of that, the club plans to apply for federal funds to deal with coastal erosion but the amount of that claim can't be determined until an engineer assesses what work needs to be done.
But whatever happens, Mills is pleased the course is open for the season with new features for golfers.
With fewer trees, he smiles, there is less of a chance of losing golf balls.
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