On the afternoon of June 23, Lee Trevino was sitting in a rocking chair under the covered porch of his cottage at The Greenbrier when the first band of a deadly storm hit West Virginia. As the resort’s golf pro emeritus, Trevino waited until the torrential rain ended before walking to the club, running into an equally stunned Bubba Watson, the resident professional, along the way. “I was devastated,” the 76-year-old Hall of Famer told me five days later. “I could not believe what I was looking at.”
The Old White TPC, host course to The Greenbrier Classic, was completely covered by floodwaters that had risen seven feet above the banks of Howard’s Creek. The debris included refrigerators, dishwashers and cars. The third-deadliest flood in West Virginia history took the lives of 15 people in Greenbrier County alone.
Two days later, Trevino met with the club’s management team to assess the damages. The Classic, scheduled for July 7-10, was officially canceled that day, but it wasn’t just The Greenbrier’s golf courses that needed to be restored. Taking precedent was the surrounding town of White Sulphur Springs and the way of life in that community and others in the Allegheny Mountains.
Greenbrier owner Jim Justice reached out to people who lost their loved ones and homes and had no place to go. He opened the doors of his resort to feed and house the displaced. More than 200 took him up on the invitation, some among the resort’s 1,800 employees who live in the area.
With so many out of work, when the resort opens its doors again is of great importance. An announcement of future plans is expected on Tuesday. The next priority is for resort guests to visit The Greenbrier again, if for no other reason than supporting the cause.
As for golf operations, that falls under the leadership of Burt Bain, the club’s general manager, Kelly Shumate, director of golf-course maintenance, and Josh Pope, superintendent of the Old White. Several members of their agronomy teams lost their homes, requiring personnel from national-disaster units to provide assistance in saving the golf course.
“You can’t really explain the magnitude of this event unless you see it with your own eyes,” Pope said. “It came quick and it came fast, and it was something that I don’t think any of us have ever seen. It just left us all in a daze or shell-shocked. We really didn’t understand what was happening at that time, the day after, even into today. We’re still assessing the damage. It seems like we might find something new every time we take a look.”
Estimates of how long it will take to get the Old White operating again vary, but Bain, Schumate, Pope and their teams are not giving up on The Classic returning in 2017. They have until Sept. 15 to clean up the property, dredge and reline the lakes, clear the silt off the fairways and get the irrigation system operable, hoping that the soil and water isn’t contaminated, in order to be able to regrass areas of the course so that they can be tournament ready come next summer.
Watson on Sunday pledged $250,000 to help local organizations. “West Virginia Strong” signs are popping up, which Trevino noticed before driving home to Dallas. “I’m not nearly as concerned about The Greenbrier as I am the people who live around it,” Trevino said. “But they’ll make it. There are some strong people in West Virginia.”
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the July 4 issue of Golf World.
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