Flood-repaired course almost ready for Greenbrier Classic
By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — There was some concern right after historic flooding forced the cancellation of last summer’s Greenbrier Classic that the Old White TPC course in West Virginia wouldn’t even be ready for this year’s PGA Tour event.
Count Bubba Watson among those doubters.
Watson, whose summer home at The Greenbrier resort lost power during the June 23, 2016, storm, saw the destruction on Old White for himself.
Not only was the Greenbrier Classic scheduled for two weeks later an afterthought, there was the daunting task of removing tons of debris and silt and getting the course in playable condition for this year’s tournament that starts July 6.
“I didn’t think it was doable, Watson said, “but they proved me wrong.”
Nearly a year since flooding from torrential rains left 23 people dead in West Virginia, including 15 in the county where the resort is located, most of the restoration work has been done with cosmetic fixes still remaining. An army of workers got it done, meeting resort owner and now-current West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s edict that there would be a tournament this year.
“That town revolves around the hotel, the resort, so rebuilding the resort and the golf course is a step in the right direction to push people to make the city great again,” Watson said. “It’s beautiful to see. It’s beautiful to see the people working, taking pride and getting the tournament back again.”
Watson said he had never seen so much rain — forecasters said as much as nine inches fell in Greenbrier County.
The bodies of three flood victims who lived in White Sulphur Springs were found on resort property. There was trash, tires, vehicles, appliances and uprooted trees everywhere on Old White. Dead fish were found on the first green.
Floodwaters from Howard’s Creek combined with water cascading down surrounding mountainsides to carve through nearly every hole on the course. Sand was washed away from bunkers, leaving behind exposed drainage pipes.
Near the 14th green, the flood surpassed by a high-water mark set in 1915 by 6 feet.
“The next morning, I didn’t know what to think,” Burt Baine, the Greenbrier’s director of golf, said Monday. “At that point we were still in shock. We hadn’t even thought about restoration. We were just trying to figure out how to clean it up.”
That took about three weeks. Within two months, contractors and architects were lined up and “we knew we could get it done. We had to get it done.”
Greens and fairways were reseeded and resodded late last summer, allowing time for growth before the winter, which turned out to be mild.
Many greens got new contours, including the signature par-3 18th green, meaning that golfers have to forget any recollections of their speed and slope.
“Everybody starts on Monday with a level playing field,” Baine said.
Phil Mickelson, who along with Watson is scheduled to play in the Greenbrier Classic, said at a news conference Monday that the PGA Tour needs to get the word out about the tournament’s return so that players and golf fans along the East Coast can “reinvigorate this community.”
“To see the job that has been done on Old White is just spectacular,” Mickelson said. “To have that course back and ready in a year is just remarkable.”
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed from Dublin, Ohio