Milwaukee C.C. Makes Quick Recovery; Ready For U.S. Mid-Am After June Floods
By David Shefter, USGA
River Hills, Wis. – From his golf cart, Pat Sisk looks out at the lush fairway of Milwaukee Country Club’s par-4 14th hole. It’s green and pristine just like the other fairways at the venerable club, which will host the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship Sept. 6-11. In the background, one can hear the gentle sounds of the Milwaukee River flowing toward Lake Michigan.
But two months ago, the scene was vastly different. That view appeared more surreal than serene. Carts needed to be replaced by canoes and rafts.
MCC wasn’t the only place hit hard. Cities like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, were completely deluged by what some called a "100-year flood." Many homes in Wisconsin and Iowa were severely damaged or destroyed.
This freak storm came on the heels of an awful winter that saw more than 100 inches of snow, which caused turf damage from the ice. And last August, normally one of the driest months, the area received a record 9 inches of rain.
"I’m ready to sit on a beach," deadpanned Sisk, entering his eighth season at MCC’s superintendent.
Indeed, June’s floods were the coups de grace for Sisk and his hard-working staff, which includes assistants Justin Olmsted and Kevin Knoblauch, and equipment manager Kevin Reep. The 26 members of the green staff were faced with a daunting challenge of getting the Charles Alison/Harry Colt-designed layout back into playing shape, not just for the upcoming Mid-Amateur, but for the club’s membership.
For 2½ weeks, MCC’s second nine was closed to the membership. The annual member-member tournament needed to be postponed. Because golf carts could not get to sections of the course, the green staff had to use a back-door entrance and hand-mow fairways and roughs.
Once the course did fully open, certain areas of holes 11-15 remained as ground under repair. Since golf carts weren’t permitted until a few weeks ago, members and guests had to walk.
This, however, was not the first time the course had been flooded. A similar storm created damage – albeit far less severe – in 2003 – but the 43-year-old Sisk said longtime members had never seen anything like what occurred this past June.
"Charles Alison had outstanding information when he built those greens," said the Connecticut-born Sisk, a member of the USGA’s Green Section Committee who has been in the business for 16 years since graduating from the University of Massachusetts.
Sisk’s first task in the reconstruction process was to wait for the waters to recede. Once that happened, he could pump any remaining moisture away. But the real damage came from the silt deposits left from the receding water. The deposits damaged the turf, which required the green staff to re-seed with two strains of creeping bentgrass.
Sisk had been through this before at his previous job at the Country Club of Fairfield in Connecticut, where one day in December salt water from the nearby beach flooded 13 holes on the course. The salt deposits acted like a herbicide, damaging all the turf they touched.
"When I interviewed for this job, I was asked if I was prepared for periodic floods," said Sisk. "I [told them] I would welcome a fresh-water flood over a salt-water flood."
Patience, time and an understanding membership enabled the MCC green staff to get the course back into its original condition. At U.S. Mid-Amateur media day on Aug. 21, the affected holes looked as if the flooding was more myth than reality.
"I’ve got a wonderful crew," said Sisk. "They certainly took it as a personal challenge to overcome the damage that was done. They wanted to show everybody that we can pull it together, that we’re professionals and that we’re going to host a USGA championship."
Outside of World War I and World War II, the USGA has never had to cancel any of its championships. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 came during the USGA Senior Amateur and USGA Senior Women’s Amateur. Since the contestants were already on site, both sets of golfers agreed to keep playing. And the championships that followed – USGA State Team in Minnesota and U.S. Mid-Amateur in California and Women’s Mid-Amateur in Missouri also were conducted as scheduled.
But what if the flooding at MCC had occurred a week prior to the Mid-Amateur? What kind of contingency plan would the USGA implement?
Mike Butz, the USGA’s deputy executive director who oversees the championship departments, said one of three things would happen.
Of course, that’s all hypothetical. Fortunately, the flooding took place in June, not early September, and MCC is as ready as ever to host the best 25-and-over golfers. Ironically, Milwaukee has received hardly any precipitation since those June storms.
"With the dry weather, I have had to irrigate a little more than I would have liked," said Sisk. "We take pride on a daily basis that we are pretty darn close to hosting a championship anyway. I think [the course] is close to being ready to go."
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.