Eight weeks after the last putt dropped at Palmetto Dunes, golf makes its long awaited return from hurricane hiatus Thursday when two of the resort’s three courses are reopened for play.
The Robert Trent Jones and Arthur Hills designs will be the first to welcome golfers back, filling the fairways for the first time since Oct. 5. The George Fazio course needs a bit more time but is expected to be completed before Christmas.
Even as chainsaws and other equipment worked to bring the courses back into shape after Hurricane Matthew, “it’s kind of felt empty,” said Clark Sinclair, the resort’s longtime director of golf.
“But it feels good now. Everybody’s raring to go.”
It’s been a long time coming. Though golf operations may have endured brief shutdowns in years past — hurricanes Hugo and Frances come to mind — those would have been a few days, tops.
“Hopefully people are excited to come see the course again,” Sinclair said. “I know our members have been chomping at the bit. And they’ve been exceedingly patient with us.”
Palmetto Dunes is offering special December rates to welcome guests back onto the fairways. The resort also overseeded all three courses while cleanup was going on, leaving them as unblemished as customers might ever see.
“The greens at all three courses are mint (condition),” Sinclair said. “No ball marks, no anything.”
General manager Brad Marra said: “We’ve just been really deliberate to make sure our golf courses are in great shape.”
More than 450 trees were toppled on the three layouts when Hurricane Matthew battered the region in early October. The courses also suffered significant flooding.
“We lowered the lagoons to take on the water,” Sinclair said, “but I saw pictures of water over the bulkheads, over the berms, over the seawall. With the rain we got, it had to be pretty incredible. I’m glad I (evacuated and) wasn’t here to see it.”
Palmetto Dunes also found itself dealing with a handful of sinkholes that developed in Matthew’s aftermath. Though Marra said none were bigger than the circumference of a golf umbrella, they presented an additional safety issue.
Even as other layouts on the island started to reopen, the resort resisted the urge to rush the cleanup process.
“We’ve wanted to make sure that when we did reopen, we provide our guests with the same experience as when we closed,” Marra said. “We didn’t want people to go back saying they only had nine holes (to play) or the course wasn’t like it used to be.”
During the hiatus, the Jones course cracked the top 100 in Golfweek magazine’s ranking of the top resort courses in the United States. With the Atlantic Ocean providing the backdrop behind its picturesque 10th green, the course ranks No. 99 nationally and ninth in South Carolina.
The Fazio course requires extra preparation, Sinclair said, because of a higher volume of tree debris. Some 320 trees were knocked down on that layout, more than twice as many as the other two courses combined. Crews got back to work there Monday after returning from a five-day Thanksgiving break.
Even with the Fazio course still on hold, getting the other two courses open means there are fewer than 100 holes typically open to public play in Beaufort County that remain closed.