Hurricane Dennis not too hard on Florida and Gulf Coast golf courses

Florida knows how to do hurricanes, as do the Gulf Coast states. Especially for the last couple years, if a hurricane isn't hitting directly, there always seems to be one threatening, either from the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Dennis is just the latest salvo and although its bark was worse than its bite, it still did considerable damage to beaches, homes and businesses, causing about $1 billion in damages, according to the latest estimates. That includes golf courses, which are always in danger from flooding and felled trees.

The Gulf Coast seemed to fare the worse, though some south Florida courses were affected as well.

Dennis made landfall about 50 miles to the west of Destin and dumped anywhere from 3-10 inches of rain on the Florida Panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Hurricane-force winds extended 40 miles out from the eye, much less than the 105 miles for last year's Ivan.

There was significant damage to the 26-mile stretch of public beaches in the Fort Walton-Desin area and virtually every Gulf-side apartment and condo buildings was damaged. Some houses and buildings were total losses, but the golf courses largely escaped.

The practice range at Emerald Bay lost its net, for example, and was closed, but the course itself suffered no damage. Indian Bayou was in the process of cleaning up the inevitable debris hurricanes cause, including some downed trees and was scheduled to open July 13.

In Pensacola, it was much the same.

"We suffered more from Ivan than Dennis," said Ashley Heine of Perdido Bay Golf Club. "In Ivan, we had a triple-wide, temporary clubhouse destroyed and a lot of tree damage. From Dennis, we had just two old trees go down."

Still, some courses experienced problems, like the Moors Golf and Lodging Course. The course has been without power all this week and will be closed until next week.

"The course itself is in good shape," said The Moors' Tom White. "If we had power, we could open tomorrow. But, we can't do much without power. Plus, we have electric carts. Right now, we're not sure when we're going to get power, but we're hoping by (July 18 or July 19)."

Most other areas courses were relatively unscathed.

"We were really hit hard by Ivan - this is nothing," Ed Schroeder of the Pensacola Convention and Visitors Bureau said. "Many of the golf courses are already open."

The Florida Keys were nearly deserted in the run-up to Dennis, with residents and tourists evacuated all the way up to Key Largo. But, only Key West was significantly affected, with wind gusts up to 74 miles per hour.

"The destructive core missed us," Matt Strahan of the Key West National Weather Service office told the media. "We're so lucky."

"We got some pretty good winds and we lost about 100 trees," Key West Golf Club Head Professional Jeff Ryan said. "It wasn't as bad as (Hurricane) George. Flooding was minimal. We got a lot more wind than rain. We were only closed for one day. We got some of the major trees off the cart paths, and we're back open for business."

Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coast courses were only slightly affected.

"We are very fortunate that Hurricane Dennis hit two states away," Kevin Drum, executive director of the Mississippi Gulf Golf Coast Association told the media. "Of our 16 member courses, 14 opened (July 11) and the others will be open (soon)."

"We had no damage to any golf courses. It kind of skirted us," said Donna Stevens of the Alabama Golf Association. "There may have been some trees down, but other than that, we had no damage."

For Dennis, it was the anticipation that may have caused the greatest damage. Many Florida and Gulf Coast courses shut down to prepare for the onslaught, losing green fees revenue.

In Gulf Shores, tens of thousands of visitors left at the height of the summer tourist season. Many of the evacuated visitors headed to points north.

Vacation rentals in Hilton Head, for example, spiked in the days before the storm hit.

Up next: Emily. The tropical storm is churning through the Caribbean and is expected to reach hurricane force. It's forecast to take a west to northwest track in the coming days, much like Dennis.

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