With the Bahamas reeling from Hurricane Dorian, local golf community looks to help lead relief efforts
MARSH HARBOUR, The Bahamas — The devastation is absolute, like one of those end-of-the-world movies, except this is real. One neighborhood after another flattened to slabs where homes once stood, reduced to piles of broken and twisted and muddied pieces of wood, metal and pulverized cinder block. Personal belongings are strewn and piled up everywhere. In shantytowns, the putrid smell of death still lingers heavy more than a week later, a grim reminder of what is below the rubble. Refrigerated trailers stationed at the adjacent port are another gruesome reality.
The official death toll attributed to Hurricane Dorian, which hit the archipelago on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour and gusts of 220 mph, is 44. That number, though, is expected to climb into the hundreds, if not more, with at least 2,500 people registered as missing, according to the Bahamas government.
At times like this, golf and the handful of courses on Great Abaco and Grand Bahama to its west are down the list in terms of priorities, though they are not entirely unimportant or unaffected. Golf is part of the fabric of these islands, with the sport helping bring in millions of dollars in tourism each year and providing jobs to hundreds of Bahamians and Haitians who emigrated to the island.
Among the hardest hit was Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club, the Instagram-famous spring-break destination of Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman. Located on a barrier island a dozen miles north of Marsh Harbour, the resort, which is reachable only by boat, was heavily damaged by storm surge and high winds as Dorian lashed the area for 48 hours.
“We are saddened by the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian and are committed to helping with disaster relief and recovery,” the resort said in a statement issued last week. “The Discovery Land Company Foundation is coordinating humanitarian efforts to help the community of Abaco and has created the Abaco Relief Fund where 100 percent of donations will go directly to relief aid.”
Fowler and Thomas, among others, have pledged their support. In addition to an initial donation to the relief organization Convoy of Hope, Thomas has offered $1,000 for every birdie he makes the rest of 2019.
“It’s devastating, but to me it’s more sad for the crew and staff because they all usually boated over from Marsh Harbour. That’s where they grew up,” Thomas said of Baker’s Bay, adding that its founder, Michael Meldman, has been working tirelessly looking after his employees in the aftermath. “Now it’s totally wiped out.”
As for other courses on the island, Treasure Cay Golf Course, about 15 miles up the road from Marsh Harbour, was likewise heavily damaged, and The Abaco Club, a 435-acre development on the south end of the island that hosts the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, suffered significant damage. Roofs were ripped off many of the homes dotting the property, and flood damage affects many of the low-lying areas. Even so, it was spared the type of destruction that took place in other parts of the island. Albany, on New Providence and site of Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge, meanwhile, was unaffected by the storm and a tournament official told Golf Digest the event, scheduled for Dec. 4-7, will go on as planned.
This area, however, is a small community in need of big help, and as of Wednesday, a GoFundMe page set up by The Abaco Club to benefit the Abaco-Winding Bay Relief Fund had generated more than $1.4 million in donations. Joe Deitch, chairman of Southworth Development, an affiliate of which owns The Abaco Club, also pledged $1 million to the relief effort.
Whether the Korn Ferry Tour’s event scheduled for January will take place is unknown. That discussion is secondary to the humanitarian efforts taking place across the island, which is still mostly without power, running water or cellphone service. Pallets of food and other supplies continue to come through two airports open on the island as well as its port. Without a centralized and organized distribution network, however, many of the remaining residents have been left to wander and wait in despair.
As for many of the estimated 70,000 residents from Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands who were evacuated or rescued, most have been displaced to Nassau on New Providence. That includes the 140 employees of The Abaco Club.
“We’re doing OK,” said Brian Shaver, a PGA professional at The Abaco Club who was one of six employees to ride out the storm inside the resort’s fitness center. “All of our employees have been accounted for, and most of them are staying in Nassau at the Baha Mar.”
Shaver added that the club’s president, Greg Sherwood, was also meeting with employees in Nassau and providing counseling or other assistance for those in need. David Southworth, the founder and CEO of Southworth Development, stressed that the property is the least of his worries at the moment, saying in a statement, “We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our staff members and other residents of Abaco. There is an urgent need for immediate assistance on Abaco, and we are moving fast to provide that assistance.”
On Thursday, Woods announced the launch of the One Bahamas Fund, to support relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Dorian. Woods is teaming with entertainer Justin Timberlake and Nexus Luxury and the Royal Bank of Canada to create the initiative, pledging to match dollar-for-dollar the first $6 million in donations.
Grand Bahama, meanwhile, is home to three courses, including the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Reef Course at the Grand Lucayan Resort, which was used as a community shelter, providing refuge for hundreds of residents who had been displaced by the fury of Dorian. All three of those courses suffered varying levels of damage.
The hardest hit area, however, remains central Abaco, where thousands of Bahamians are seeking flights to islands with power and fresh water. Airport restrictions, debris in ports that have been destroyed and sunken boats have proved a major obstacle. That hasn’t stopped dozens of organizations from trying to find a way to provide support. Celebrity chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen has managed to distribute more than 25,000 meals on the island. The Flying Classroom, a K-8 integrative STEM supplemental curriculum program based out of Miami and assisted by pilot Barrington Irving, the youngest person to fly solo around the world, has been flying in donated food and other goods daily. Bahamas tourism has also said the best way to help rebuild is to visit, noting many of the Bahamas’ 700 islands were not affected.
As for golf? The courses in the affected areas on the islands, as Southworth and others have noted, remain secondary. The time, though, for the golf community to help, however it can, is now, and it will be for years to come.
How can you help with the recovery?
Here are links to participate in various relief efforts:
• The Abaco Club's GoFundMe on behalf of the Abaco-Winding Bay Relief Fund: www.gofundme.com/f/abacodorianrelief
• The One Bahamas Fund: www.onebahamasfund.org
• Convoy of Hope: www.convoyofhope.org
• Red Cross: www.redcross.org