Rowboats have replaced golf carts, greens are submerged and three holes have formed into one giant lake at Meadowbrook Golf Course, one of two Minneapolis public golf courses the city might be forced to close for the season.
It could cost the city nearly $1 million in revenue if Meadowbrook and Hiawatha, two of its most popular golf courses, have to stop operations.
The two were closed to the public in mid-June after relentless rain caused Minnehaha Creek to spill onto fairways, rendering them unplayable. Dozens of indoor workers were laid off and golfers were forced to tee off elsewhere.
“The whole place looks like a lake,” said Paul Schmidt, the lone attendant at Meadowbrook, as he surveyed the waterlogged course Wednesday. “It’s devastating.”
The city rented pumps and bought sandbags to limit the damage, but the greens were too wet for play.
Hiawatha was able to pump out most of its standing water, but Meadowbrook wasn’t so lucky. Fifteen of the course’s 18 holes are submerged — the worst under 8 to 10 feet of water — and maintenance workers need rowboats to reach certain parts of the course. Three holes are now connected in one giant body of water, filled with algae.
And the condition is not expected to change soon.
“We’re kind of at the mercy of Mother Nature right now,” said Sara Ackmann, who heads golf, ice and winter programs at the Park and Recreation Board. “It’s really timing and luck at this point.”
During the week, Minneapolis loses between $5,000 and $7,000 each day a golf course is closed. On the weekend, that figure ranges from $12,000 to $15,000 per day, Ackmann said. If the city were to close both courses for the rest of the year, the overall revenue loss could reach $900,000.
Dead and dying turf
But repairing the damage will be costly as well.
Officials from the University of Minnesota assessed Hiawatha’s course and ultimately recommended the Park Board simply kill the fairway and start over, Ackmann said. Workers would have to reseed all of the damaged greens by September in order to have a good shot at making that plan work, she said.
Despite the lack of business, maintenance crews at both courses are on duty because the turf that’s unscathed still requires care.
“If we were to just let everybody go and just sit back and wait, we would lose the entire golf course,” Ackmann said. “So, it is imperative that we continue to maintain what we have as if we were open.”
The city has moved Hiawatha and Meadowbrook leagues to the remaining four Park Board courses. Season passes are also honored within the Park Board system.
One silver lining, Ackmann said, is that three of the city’s courses are in the best condition in years. Columbia, Gross National and Theodore Wirth are likely doing so well because they’re at higher elevations with different soil compositions than Hiawatha and Meadowbrook.
At Hiawatha, only two holes remain surrounded by water. “Now we’re just left with a lot of dead turf,” said general manager Dan Stoneburg.
The course is still closed, but the driving range is back up and running, Stoneburg said.
About 10 miles away, Meadowbrook looks practically deserted. Since it closed shop three weeks ago, the course has only welcomed a handful of people a day, said Schmidt.
The indoor staff — primarily college students — was let go as soon as operations ceased, leaving Schmidt.
Golfers could potentially play three holes on the course, Schmidt said, but would likely need waders to find their golf balls in the deep pools of water. Pumps are trying to pull water out of basements in million-dollar homes surrounding the course, but empty out into the existing “lakes” on the green.
Meadowbrook first suffered damage five weeks ago, when three of the holes became submerged. But the club was able to work around it for awhile, charging golfers who played a round of 15 the rate charged for a round of nine holes, Schmidt said.
Now Schmidt spends much of his time answering calls from regulars asking when the course will reopen and greeting those who just show up at the clubhouse expecting to play.
“People come and it’s unfortunate because I have to turn them away,” he said.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648