Miracle on Old White? Course restored
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Walking around the Old White TPC course, you would be hard-pressed to detect the damage from 52 fallen trees.
By the time the third edition of the Greenbrier Classic tees off Thursday morning, spectators will have to be told where the trouble spots were. When the Classic hits Golf Channel on Thursday afternoon, viewers won't see anything out of the ordinary.
As golfers began their practice round, Greenbrier workers, men from a local nursery and other vendors continued their work in restoring the 98-year-old course after it got hammered by Friday's storm.
Work remained Monday, but the course was very much playable, the grandstands and skyboxes looked perfect and fans trickled onto the course for the afternoon pro-am.
Call it the Miracle on Old White.
Led by head groundskeeper Kelly Shumate and aided by small army of volunteers, all those trees were picked up, sliced up and carted away.
Trees totally lost were removed, stumps and all, and damaged branches were sawed off otherwise healthy trees.
More than 200 people worked all weekend to present a near-perfect course for arriving PGA Tour golfers.
"It was a Herculean effort," said Tim McNeely, the Classic's executive director. "We had The Greenbrier staff, all hands on deck. We had a lot of vendors, but we had a large number of volunteers that came, even though they had their own problems, no power at home.''
Before crews could do much of anything, they had to clear out a few avenues - "veins," as McNeely termed them - to get to the rest of the course. One was near the driving range where spectators enter the course; the other was the area between No. 18 and No. 1, where the bridge crosses Howard's Creek.
That took until about 3 a.m. Saturday. From there, hours ran short to remove trees - not just dig them up and set them aside, get them off the course - fix a damaged green and rebuild some demolished skyboxes.
Said skyboxes were picture-perfect on Monday, as if they had not been touched. Fairways were near perfect on all par-4s and par-5s.
The two most spectacular areas of damage were still a work in progress, but that progress was coming along nicely.
On the par-3 18th hole, two large trees to the left of the tee box fell toward the green into Howard's Creek, causing a considerable amount to damage to the ground.
Crews smoothed out the affected area and laid sod on it. The damaged skyboxes at that hole - including resort owner Jim Justice's box - were rebuilt.
Nearby, the first tree hugging the left of the first fairway was noticeably absent. There weren't many other easily detected lost trees or damage to the grounds until the 16th.
That hole presented the biggest challenge, as a big tree flopped into the back edge of the green and made it unplayable.
Looking at the green, some scratches remain. Worse areas were plugged with hexagonal patches from the chipping green, and grass has been planted all around. The idea is to transform the area into a fringe surface, easier to even out by Thursday morning.
And easier to avoid an area being declared "ground under repair," such as happened last week at the AT&T National in suburban Washington, where the storm hit between rounds.
The third round of that tournament, framed by uprooted trees, was played without spectators and most volunteers.
The head groundskeeper was unavailable for comment Monday because, well, he was the busiest man on the course. But this is likely his finest moment, professionally.
"Kelly Shumate, you can't say enough about him," McNeely said.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.