Sunday May 6, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- Dealing with flood waters at Stockbridge Golf Club is nothing new for green superintendent Bruce Packard.

"We've had flooding conditions 81 times in my 22 years here where we've had to close the course," said Packard of the course's constant battle with the Housatonic River, which borders or crosses 14 of the historic course's 18 holes.

Still, dealing with last fall's double whammy of tropical storms Irene and Lee, which sent the Housatonic over its banks twice in rapid succession in late August and early September, wasn't business as usual.

"Having storms like that back-to-back was, like the movie, ‘The Perfect Storm,' " Packard said. "We had 11 greens damaged. Previously, we'd only had two damaged [in 1996]."

The word that has spread in Berkshire County's tight-knit golf community concerning Stockbridge and the 2012 season has been bleak. However, all but one of 11 damaged greens are now open for play and the last one (No. 4) is likely to be open sometime in the next two weeks.

Green committee chairman Michael Considine wants the golf community to know that Stockbridge will be the well-conditioned course that it usually is sooner rather than later.

"There has been so much speculation out there about the damage," Considine said. "We want to clarify that for area golfers and prospective members. This course always springs back nicely and I'm optimistic it will be shining when the [Stockbridge] Trophy is played," on June 2-3.


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Other than to build up golfers' expectations, Packard said, March's two-week summer-like spell didn't have a huge positive impact in the recovery, and April's weather was cold enough to slow down the process of growing new grass both on the greens and fairways. But Mother Nature did cooperate during the winter.

"The winter wasn't bad and there is no doubt about it, that helped," Packard said a week ago Friday. "But [April's] colder weather made growing the course a challenge. A couple of warm weeks and some rain would help. We need nighttime temperatures in the 50s and it hasn't even been close."

Packard got his wish this past week.

"No question, we got some rain and the temperatures at night were warmer," he said Saturday.

That allowed Packard to open three of the four greens that still had been closed (Nos. 13, 16, 18).

Now much of the focus will be on getting the fairways back in shape. Packard admits that will patience.

"I had two guys in [Saturday] reseeding some areas," Packard said. "We've used almost 2,000 pounds of seed and we're not done yet. It's going to take some time to get the fairways back to where they should be."

Still, while things are far from perfect, the course is very playable and, considering the mess that existed on Sept. 23 when the flood waters receeded, the recovery has been relatively swift.

"I never thought it would come back this fast," said Dick Salinetti, a longtime member and the Lenox High School golf coach, as he played a round with club treasurer John Davidson on Saturday morning.

"With Bruce's years of experience, he knows exactly what to do when it comes to dealing with flooding and his crew is well-trained," Davidson said.

"We have the equipment to deal with flooding and a good crew with lots of experience," Packard said. "We are good at gauging the river. But, as I said, this was just the perfect storm. We just couldn't get the greens cleaned up quickly enough before the second storm hit. We had all but four greens cleaned up when we got flooded again."

The course restoration started as soon as the flood waters receeded and Packard's crew could gauge the mess the storms left behind. The damage included the 11 greens, three of them completely destroyed, multiple fairways buried in silt, 10 acres of turf loss and the destruction of several tee boxes.

Considering Stockbridge's location makes flooding an annual issue, Considine said several plans to help cope with that reality are being studied.

"We are considering raising a couple of greens and we are looking into purchasing a flood diversion device," he said. "That is all in the planning stages and any decisions would need member approval."

A company in Finland has come up with a product called Aqua Fence, which is a portable structure that can surround a green and protect it.

For now, however, it is all about making this summer a good one at a club that was established in 1895 and recently proved a stern test when hosting the 2008 Massachusetts Open despite measuring only 6,567 yards from the back tees. Only three players in the field broke par with James Renner winning by two shots with a 54-hole total 5-under 204.

"This is a unique club and we are proud of our history," Considine said. "We didn't want potential new members and other golfers in the area to get erroneous information. The course has a lot to offer. It's a great walking course, it's one of the most challenging courses in the area and we've always prided ourselves on our greens."