“Everyone talks about the weather,” Mark Twain wrote, “but no one does anything about it.” This month I write about the weather in the Carolinas and Scotland. We really cannot do anything about it, but our attitudes toward it and proper preparations can make for a safer and happier retirement.
I spent 10 glorious September days in Scotland, the first three in Edinburgh and the rest in my favorite town in the world, Crail, the tiny fishing village on the North Sea about a 70-minute drive north of Edinburgh and home to two terrific golf courses, one opened in the 19th Century and the other, designed by Gil Hanse, opened in 1998. Edinburgh is a sophisticated European city with a growing food culture, plenty of attractions (Edinburgh Castle is a must visit) and excellent transportation options. In fact, for the first time, I lugged my golf clubs onto a train and walked from a train station to a golf course, in this case the famed North Berwick Links. The next day I repeated the experience to Dunbar Golf Club but had to rely on a five-minute taxi ride to the course from the Dunbar train station. All in all, the round trips from Edinburgh to the golf courses were about a half hour. It was a major convenience not to need a car in Edinburgh; driving on the “wrong” side of the road is a lot tougher on crowded city streets. And it was cool to carry my clubs through crowds and onto a train with nary a skeptical look from passengers and passersby.
The skies to the west threatened at Dunbar Golf Club outside Edinburgh, but it never rained. However, the wind blew up to 50 mph.
Golf courses in the Edinburgh area don’t receive the kind of glow of the more famous layouts in and around St. Andrews. I did hear plenty of American spoken at North Berwick, a course that is justifiably famous for its contributions to golf course architecture around the world. (For example, North Berwick gets credit for the “redan” green, a huge expanse of putting surface that favors a draw off the par three tee since the green runs from front right to left rear, with yawning bunkers guarding the left half of the green). But I also loved Dunbar, the windy conditions notwithstanding, which is a slightly less quirky design but with all the idiosyncrasies of a layout along the sea (links fairways, windy conditions, etc.). Under mostly sunny skies, the wind blew at a steady 35 mph with gusts easily to 50 mph. On the par 3 17th hole, I hit my best #3 hybrid toward the green 150 yards away—and watched in half amazement, half horror as it blew back toward me. It wound up a good 25 yards short of the green. (One note about the weather at North Berwick and Dunbar, which I assume is true for the half dozen other golf courses in the immediate area. According to my caddy at North Berwick, the area has something of a micro-climate that tends to be immune to much of the rain that affects Edinburgh and the Fife coast that runs north along the North Sea. As part of his show and tell, he pointed across the Firth of Forth to the rain falling along the coast, just a few miles away. We were in brilliant sunshine, with some very dark clouds to the west, which never reached us.)
On my way to Dunbar Golf Club, I left my golf shoes in a bag on the train. I realized it when I arrived at the club. A sign outside the pro shop indicated a sale on golf shoes, with 25% off for handing in an old pair of shoes. I needed shoes but, of course, did not have an old pair to trade. “No problem,” said Gordon in the pro shop. “I’ll bring an old pair of mine in tomorrow and give ye the discount now.” I wound up with a nice new pair of Foot Joys for a little less than I would pay in the States.
I have written about Crail numerous times at GolfCommunityReviews.com. I did not realize until this trip that Crail may be the only 36-hole golfing complex in the world where every hole has a view of the ocean, in this case the North Sea. I hear reports all the time about fickle Scottish weather affecting play on the two ocean courses at Crail, but I have been immensely lucky on my three visits to Scotland, which have included weeks in June, August and September. In about a dozen rounds, it has rained for one hole at The Old Course—well, more sideways sleet than rain, but just as fast as it happened it was gone, and sunshine returned.
For this trip, I prepared for September cold and rain by purchasing my first rain suit, as well as rain gloves and a rain hat, Ben Hogan style. The rain suit and hat came in handy—for exactly three holes out of the 108 I played on this trip. The rain suit works as well as bringing a golf umbrella; having them along almost guarantees you won’t need them.
The harbor in Crail, Scotland
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Odor of Devastation Hangs Over Some Areas of North Carolina
What is it about North Carolina and named hurricanes that begin with the letter F? Hurricanes Floyd (1999) and the recent Florence had it in for North Carolina. No single state suffered more from these two whopper storms than did the Tar Heel State, and its residents will continue to feel the effects from Florence for years to come. As if the wind and rain were not enough, swollen rivers and streams have, as they did in the wake of Floyd, unleashed flooding across a wide swath of the state. In many cases, the floodwaters have carried for many miles dead animals and inadequately contained hog and chicken waste, making some areas uninhabitable and stinking, at least for the time being.
Hurricane Floyd, nearly 20 years ago, was a warning signal. The 10 billion gallons of hog waste produced by the state’s nearly 10 million hogs, second in number only to Iowa, had been stored in “lagoons” designed to withstand about a foot of steady rain. But Floyd dumped 15 to 20 inches in some areas and the waste flowed well beyond the containers’ edges, infiltrating streams and a few rivers. The resulting algal blooms that sprouted in the waterways pretty much killed recreational fishing for the better part of a decade. (To add to the problem, hog waste is treated with a chemical that, when released into ground water, is known to cut off oxygen to a baby’s red blood cells, turning the skin blue.) As a result of Floyd, more than 30,000 hogs drowned, a clear warning signal of what might happen if another “500-year storm” should hit. (And that is not counting all the chickens and turkeys that drowned; North Carolina, by the way, is the second largest producer of turkey meat, after Minnesota.)
The state fared better in Hurricane Matthew (2016), with only 15 lagoons reportedly overflowing their banks in the wake of about a foot of rain. But state officials were clearly unprepared for the biblical proportions of Florence, with more than two feet of rain reported in many towns. Although thousands of hogs were relocated before the storm, a reported 5,500 died in the floodwaters. It was even worse for chickens and turkeys; an estimated 3.4 million of them died. Making things even more tragic for residents of the eastern part of the state, the toxic by-product of coal burning, known as ash, washed out of ponds south of Wilmington.
One golf community in central North Carolina, River Landing in Wallace, was particularly affected by flooding. The community is less than a mile north of Interstate 40 and about a 45-minute drive inland from Wilmington. At that distance, it was spared the brunt of the storm’s winds and rain. But its location along the Northeast Cape Fear River, a branch of the larger Cape Fear River in Wilmington, spelled trouble. Florence made landfall in Wilmington’s Wrightsville Beach and created a storm surge that pushed up the Northeast Cape Fear well inland. One River Landing homeowner was interviewed on the local television station. (Click here.) http://www.wunc.org/post/flooded-homeowners-waiting-hardest-part#stream/0
How Some Communities Weathered Florence
Ken Kirkman knows more about the operations of golf communities than virtually anyone in the industry. He was a key player in the growth of Bald Head Island and Landfall in Wilmington, NC, and was the prime developer of Carolina Colours in New Bern. If you were following mainstream news on The Weather Channel in mid September, you know that all those golf communities were pretty much at ground zero for Hurricane Florence. I asked Ken for some updates. (A slightly edited version of his notes follows.)
Carolina Colours, New Bern, NC
New Bern on the whole fared poorly, but we were fortunate at Carolina Colours. We had major flooding along the creek on the back nine (of the golf course) as the drainage runs into the creek, which empties into the Trent River, which had big time flooding. That caused the creek to back up. Water level went down quickly, however, so our biggest problem was 112 trees down on the golf course. No serious damage to greens or tees so as of October 3, we were re-opened to play and the course is in pretty decent shape, except for sand loss and silt in bunkers. We had a lot of play this past weekend (10/5-6); players were amazed at how good the condition was. Total revenue loss will be about $100,000 for the course, including lost revenue, half of which is covered by insurance. I was very pleased with our drainage in the community and on the course; only where the creek flooded were there problems.
Overall, Carolina Colours had about 500 trees down in and around residential properties. About 15 homes got hit, about half a dozen with fairly serious damage from rainwater when the roofs got hit and punctured. Two homes got a few inches of water in parts of them from the creek flooding. Considering we have about 300 homes, that was not too bad. I spent the first two weeks after the storm coordinating tree service for owners, but we had prearranged for help to come in right after the storm, so as of today (10/8) you can hardly tell there has been a storm.
Hundreds of residents in the New Bern area lost everything. Downtown historical homes that had been there for more than 100 years took on water for the first time ever.
Landfall, Wilmington, NC
Landfall’s experience was similar to that of Carolina Colours, with mainly tree damage to houses. Like us, they were well prepared and have done a good job cleaning up. They had a few washouts in streets, which are now pretty much repaired, and they had some street flooding, which we didn't have. Both Wilmington and New Bern were isolated on all sides for three to four days after the storm due to flooding inland.
Cypress Landing, Chocowinity, NC
David Grahek, a resident of Cypress Landing, which is located on the Pamlico River in north central North Carolina, was kind enough to provide us with an update on the storm’s effect on his community a week after landfall. Cypress Landing appeals to boaters as well as golfers, and David indicated that the community’s marina encountered rising waters, but since the docks float, there were no major issues. The waterfront in the town of Washington, just a few minutes across the Chocowinity Bay, did take on a lot of water. Cypress Landing’s position well above the Bay kept it from being flooded. The Cypress Landing golf course, with a few holes near the Bay, fared well, with the most significant issue being lots of branches from the surrounding pine trees scattered across the course. It took just three days of clean up to open the front nine, followed pretty quickly by the rest of the course.
God Bless the Barrier Islands
They are called the “barrier” islands for good reason: They provide a barrier to high winds and storm surge for low-lying coastal areas. Among the most important barrier islands on the Southeast coast are Hilton Head, Daufuskie Island, Edisto, Kiawah and others.
Bald Head Island is one of them, and it took the brunt of Hurricane Florence.
Those who remember the island in the late 90s when Hurricanes Floyd and Bertha came through say it was bad then, but nothing like during Florence, when much of the island was flooded. It took almost two weeks before property owners were permitted back on the island to assess damage to their homes. A reported 100 homes were damaged enough to be condemned. According to Bald Head Island golf course’s officials, the golf course practice facilities reopened last weekend and maintenance crews were out on the golf course clearing the fairways of debris after it went under water.
Bald Head Island counts on a fall rental season, but erosion and other leftover issues will probably cause a shortfall in rentals.
Your Editor’s Experience with Hurricane Florence
My wife Connie and I were lucky given that for days prior to Hurricane Florence’s arrival on the east coast, Pawleys Island seemed to be directly in its path. We own a vacation condo there, and when South Carolina officials issued a mandatory evacuation for the town, we had every reason to be intimidated.
The truth is that we were certainly concerned, especially for our neighbors who are year-rounders there, but we have homeowner’s insurance and flood insurance that basically covered us for most of a potential total loss.
As it turned out, after the storm made landfall at Wilmington, NC, it did a little jig and passed just north of Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island. Then the biggest concern was the Waccamaw River, which runs along the western edge of Pawleys Island and flows down to Georgetown, about 8 miles south of Pawleys Plantation. Georgetown did see significant flooding, as did the river town of Conway farther north.
We were lucky. But faced earlier with the threat of damage to our home, we were philosophical about things. As Connie put it, “Well, we have talked about the need to redecorate at some point.” When you choose to live in any area under threat of natural disasters — hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions — consider the lyrics from the song that Doris Day made popular in the mid-1950s: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be…”
Larry Gavrich Founder & Editor Home On The Course, LLC