City’s golf courses, baseball and soccer fields took on serious — and lasting — damage from the May 2010 flood

Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 9:05pm
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A three-ton capacity bridge at the Harpeth Youth Soccer Association remains overturned a year after the flood. (Jude Ferrara/SouthComm)

A year after the Harpeth River jumped its banks and covered the Harpeth Valley Golf Center in Bellevue, co-owner Stan Smoot is still trying to get his nine-hole course back to pre-flood condition.

Last week, Tommy Lynch, the interim director for the Metro Parks and Recreation Department, proudly proclaimed that McCabe Golf Course in West Nashville — which was partially underwater after the adjacent Richland Creek overflowed — was “back open with 27 holes back on the original greens that had been damaged by the flood.” But he also said it cautiously, as four to five inches poured down last Wednesday — eerily close to the one-year anniversary of Nashville’s worst flood. 

“If anything happens again, we are more prepared to deal with the process,” Lynch said. “But I am not so sure the process wouldn’t be just as timely the next time around as it was the last time … It is something that I hope and pray we never have to go through as a city again.”

Depending on the position or type of sports surface, the length of recovery period varied in Nashville. 

Sitting at the corner of 25th Street and Jess Neely Drive, Hawkins Field suddenly became a pit for all the debris that floated down Vanderbilt’s campus. On the Monday after the flood, Bill Randles, manager for sports and turf facilities for Vanderbilt’s plant operations, quickly assigned more than 20 people to help clean up at Hawkins Field. Luckily, the infield dirt wasn’t too muddy, and the drainage system in the outfield did its part.

The Harpeth River surrounds the Harpeth Valley Golf Center on three sides. So it wasn’t the first time Smoot and company had to retreat. In fact, they were six for six in successful evacuations when the river flooded. 

Late in May, a truck was at the gate of the complex — which features a driving range and golf course — ready to haul the trailer where the business operates to higher, dryer ground. But the water rose too quickly. The turf golf equipment was lost, and the trailer was knocked off its blocks and pushed up against the nearby woods.  

“We knew it was devastating when it was happening,” Smoot said. “We knew it was the big one, and we knew we were going to get just totally wiped out, which we basically did. So we are starting over.”

The driving range reopened three weeks after the flood, and the golf course was open for business by July. But it wasn’t the same. 

The winter of 2009 produced a freeze, which was followed by the flood, which was followed by a two-month drought. The facility was low on irrigation and equipment during that stretch. The custom-made irrigation panels had to be built and shipped from a factory. (Of course, Harpeth Valley wasn’t the only area golf course in that same situation, so the wait for the equipment was long.) 

“Without irrigation on the golf course in the summer, during the summer, it is not pretty,” Smoot said. “You can’t do all the little things that you normally do, such as fertilize and airify … so we had our hands tied. The golf course kind of grew up in weeds. None of the desirable grasses were doing well. When the desirable grasses don’t do well, you get undesirable grasses.”

Smoot said the course is just starting to recover as the recent thunderstorms and warmer temperatures have aided the growth of the warm-weather Bermuda grasses. Still, the center is just charging $9 for nine holes — three dollars less than usual. 

“2010 was our worst year [financially],” Smoot said. “The expenses we incurred due to the flood damage was heavy. Then, on top of that, we had a lot of lost of business due to the shape of the place.”

Lynch can relate.

McCabe and Ted Rhodes Golf Course in North Nashville (next to the Cumberland River), along with Harpeth Hills and Percy Warner, were either damaged by the flood or suffered because of a lack of irrigation. Lynch estimated it cost Metro Parks $400,000 in revenue and at least that much in repairs. 

Improvements are still being authorized and finished a year later. McCabe, a 27-hole course, had 18 holes up and running within two weeks after the flood, but four greens and three tees needed to be rebuilt. At Ted Rhodes, the clubhouse is reopened but the Federal Emergency Management Agency just recently approved the needed repairs for the irrigation system of the sand traps.

Over at the Harpeth Youth Soccer Association complex in Bellevue — which was under 30 feet of water last year — a three-ton capacity bridge remains upside-down and several feet from where it should be. The metal bridge, which with an abundance of driftwood now serves as a kind of dam, crosses the Harpeth River and leads to several more soccer fields. 

Lynch said they have agreed on a contract with a company that will come in with two cranes and flip it over. He said they would wait until after HYSA’s spring soccer season comes to fix the bridge. 

HYSA, like McCabe, was amid the worst damage areas.

“Most of the area around the Cumberland, the fields that got damaged, they got damaged by the height of the water. It wasn’t the flow that damaged them,” Lynch said. “The damage done at McCabe and HYSA was done by the speed of the flow. The damage done by the creeks and the small rivers like the Harpeth River was more difficult.”