The golf course, owned by father and son tandem Harry and Jim Burch, was perhaps the most impacted business struck by the tornadoes. The course was fortunate that earlier storms had suspended play for the day and golfers had left the area.
There was no loss of life or injuries, but the damage was extensive. Golf course manager Joe Starr said when he first saw the damage he felt it would take three or four months to get the operation back up and running.
Starr was surprised by the determination of his maintenance crew. The group, including Tommy Ramsey, “Toad” Ramsey, Bryant Baines, Patrick Gallaher and T.A. Hicks, had the back nine ready for play in three days, and the entire 18 ready two weeks later.
The golf operation lost some tournaments during that two-week period, and some revenue from public play for some time, but it has steadily recovered.
The golf course was hit by two tornadoes, one about 6 p.m. and a more violent storm around 9. The 9 p.m. direct hit left destruction through the middle of the 18 holes.
Devastation was tremendous, and the cleanup continues to this day. The tornadoes effectively returned the golfing facility back to its early days of 1993, when it first opened for public play.
Hundreds of trees which added difficulty to the golfing challenges around the front nine are gone, carried away by the horrific winds traveling from the east. A home located on a hill to the east, just beyond the boundaries of the golf course, was destroyed — with a golf course directional sign stuck in a pantry door.
The disaster was not a single event, but a combined trio of events. A heavy storm struck in the afternoon, which fortunately sent all of the golfers, employees and visitors home. If not, the county death toll of nine could have been higher.
The two tornadoes followed the rainstorm. The first hit around 6 p.m. on the north side of the golf course, tearing off the south side of the clubhouse structure and a portion of the roof. This was only a small percentage of the damage that was to happen later. The clubhouse took three months to repair, disrupting the golfing operation for much of that time.
The damage, and the realization that a tornado had struck, had little time to sink in for area residents before the “Big One” came through. This tornado came over a hill to the west (near Michigan Avenue Elementary School) and pounded the golf course. It left tremendous damage to the 11th fairway, the tree-lined creek bed which dissects the golf course, and the front nine holes before racing to the east.
The power of this second tornado was unimaginable. It uprooted and carried away more than 800 trees and left the front nine a wasteland. Much of the debris left behind was moved to the side of the first nine, so play could resume two weeks later.
A restroom located between the fourth green and the No. 5 tee was pulled from its foundation and destroyed. A huge barn, located beside the par-five sixth green, was destroyed and its silo toppled onto the nearby green.
A grove of pine trees located between the No. 7 and No. 8 fairways was destroyed and carried away. The trees, numbering more than 500 and between 20 and 25 feet high, were ripped from the ground and carried to the east. Only a few stragglers remained.
The golf course, which had grown (over 18 years) to be a tree-lined test of golfing ability (especially the front side), was suddenly an almost barren landscape. It was an amazing sight for golfers who played the course regularly — the trees were sparse, and the barn, silo and restroom were gone.
Starr said his maintenance crew jumped right in to start the cleanup and recovery. Debris was picked up on holes 10 through 18 first so golfers could use the less-damaged back nine. The storms hit late Wednesday and golfers were playing by the weekend.
The cleanup and patch-up of the first nine holes took much longer. Completely cleaning up the debris took literally months, with considerable work along the creek bed running through the middle of the course.
Although the greens escaped serious damage, there was a considerable amount of patchwork to the surfaces, especially on No. 6 which was hit by the tumbling silo. No. 8 also had some damage on the rear, or north, side.
In the woodland between the par-3 second green and the par-4 fifth, several huge trees were uprooted and toppled. Those trees remain on the ground and recovery continues a year later. Cleanup of the creek bed has been a yearlong project.
Although the tornadoes were devastating, Starr is thankful. “The golf course survived and no one was killed or injured,” he said in a recent interview.
Damage to the golf course, although covered by insurance, is estimated at almost a quarter of a million dollars. More than 800 trees are gone, although there are plans to plant new ones this fall.
The clubhouse has been repaired and a new restroom constructed at the fifth green. The golfing routine has settled into normalcy, tournaments are scheduled and public play has resumed.
An equipment shed has been constructed on the site of the old barn, and will be added too. Starr said there will be second story built on top of the existing shed resembling the original barn located at that site.
Just to the east of this structure, at the right front of the No. 6 green, are parts of two trees which were left as reminders of the tornadoes. One large tree is only a trunk about 12 to 15 feet high; its upper branches were ripped away. The second tree has about half of its upper limbs ripped away, but there remains a piece of tin from the barn’s roof tangled in the upper branches.
It was a devastating blow to an area business. The landscape is different, there remain reminders of the horrific storms, but the golf course survived and no one was harmed, so course operators feel fortunate overall.