Area golf courses 'roughed up a little bit' by winter
Golf courses and country clubs across Metro Detroit say this past winter, fortunately, wasn't as bad as the one before.
Many public and private golf courses were forced to spend thousands to re-seed and re-sod greens after the winter of 2013-14, when the polar vortex blanketed the region with bitter cold and long-lasting layers of snow and ice.
This past winter, while colder than normal, brought a lot less snow and ice. Golf course operators say damage this spring is actually more widespread than last year, but much less severe.
"Some people got roughed up a little bit, but nothing compared to last year," said Jeff Holmes, president of the Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association, which represents 750 course operators. "Everyone will get up and running, patched up and good to go."
Holmes, who is superintendent of the Egypt Valley Country Club in Ada near Grand Rapids, said he and other operators are working to get problems fixed as the weather warms up and golfers get their clubs out of storage.
Greystone Golf Club and Banquet Center in Washington Township already has players out on the links. General manager and PGA professional David Graulau said he expects the course to be in midseason shape soon.
"I think the greens will be in fairly good order probably sometime in the next two weeks," he said. "From an overall standpoint, I think we'll be far, far ahead of the curve than what we were last year."
Golfer George Powelson, who was playing a round with some friends Friday, said he thought conditions weren't bad.
"It's still early in the season," said Powelson, 70, of Shelby Township. "But everything looks like it's in fairly good shape."
Kevin Frank, a Michigan State University associate professor and turf grass expert, said this spring brings "good news and bad news" for the state's golf courses.
"The good news is this year we're not as bad as last year," he said. "But the bad news is I think the damage covers a larger geographic area than it did last year. I've seen damage in the Grand Rapids area through mid-Michigan, the Greater Detroit region and up north of Gaylord."
Holmes said at Egypt Valley, crews have spent a lot of time fixing irrigation pipes damaged by this past winter's subzero temperatures.
"We've probably repaired more this year than we have in the last eight years all together," he said. "It froze the ground so deep that it shifted the pipe and we've been very busy with that."
Crews have also had to repair some ice-damaged greens.
"Last year, we didn't have any damage from ice," he said. "But this year, we had to re-sod a few places, which we've never had to do in Egypt Valley's (25-year history.)"
This past winter was the region's 20th coldest, with an average temperature of 23.3 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. And with 47.6 inches of snow, the area got a little more than half of the snowfall it did the year before.
In 2013-14, Metro Detroit suffered through its 8th coldest winter ever, with an average temperature of 20.9 degrees, the weather service said. On top of frigid air, the region was slammed with a record-breaking 94.8 inches of snow.
Ice formed by a cycle of melting and refrozen snow was mostly responsible for killing the grass on golf courses — most use poa annua, an annual bluegrass that can't survive more than about 50 days of severe weather, experts said.
"It was probably as bad as we've seen in 35-40 years," Frank said. "There were several golf courses with 18 greens that were completely dead."
Frank, who has conducted extensive research on ice damage on golf courses, said damage was especially bad on courses east of U.S. 23.
That has sparked at least one legal battle between three Oakland County courses and an insurance company.
Bloomfield Hills Country Club, Birmingham Country Club and Pine Trace Golf Club sued Travelers Property Casualty Company of America a couple of weeks ago after the insurer denied claims for damage caused by ice and snow in 2013-14.
"All three purchased a policy from Travelers specifically to protect their greens, fairways and tee boxes from snow and ice damage," said Frank Aiello, a partner with Southfield-based legal firm Shea Aiello PLLC who is representing the country clubs. "When my clients made claims to Travelers for it, Travelers said their policies didn't provide coverage.
"It's pretty ridiculous," he said. "My clients paid their premiums for years and years and as soon as there's a claim, the insurance company wants to ... deny coverage based on semantics."
Aiello said no court date has been set.
All three seek restitution for damage to their greens as well as lost revenue from fees, golf cart rentals, pro shop sales and food and beverage sales. The Bloomfield Hills Country Club demands $1 million, the Birmingham Country Club wants $302,637.73 and Pine Trace is asking for $397,140.31.
Officials for Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Companies Inc. said they cannot comment on pending litigation.