Rains soak Buffalo area courses, leave golfers holding bag - The Buffalo News

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Rains soak Buffalo area courses, leave golfers holding bag

Conditions at many Buffalo area golf courses are ideal for geese – and fish – but not for golfers.

The heavy rains that have lashed the region since March have flooded fairways, filled bunkers and created new, unwanted water hazards.

The soggy weather has forced a number of courses to close down for days at a time, prompted others to ban golf carts from their fairways and, in the case of Grover Cleveland Golf Course, kept it from opening at all.

"We could have stocked it with fish," said Jeff Ehlers, director of Youth, Parks and Recreation for the Town of Tonawanda, referring to the several feet of water that surged Monday on the 15th fairway at the town's Sheridan Park Golf Club.

More rain has fallen since March 1 – 12.03 inches as of Tuesday – than in any other spring in Buffalo's history dating to 1870.

That's too much water for many fields used for high school spring sports, or for adult recreation leagues, to drain off.

Dan Johnston, who is head greenskeeper for the Erie County's golf courses, mans a pump taking standing water from the fifth hole at Grover Cleveland Golf Course in Buffalo on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

And a number of the area's golf courses are in a similar boat.

At Grover Cleveland, the Erie County-owned course in Buffalo, up to 6 to 8 inches of water covered at least four of the 18 holes, said Daniel J. Rizzo, commissioner of the county's Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry.

Grover Cleveland won't open for a week or two. The Buffalo Tournament Club in Lancaster has been closed since Sunday. And Hamburg's Eighteen Mile Creek Golf Course was closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

"There's just nowhere for the water to go," said Scott Marble, golf professional at the Buffalo Tournament Club.

The managers of the area's golf courses are used to dealing with less-than-ideal weather conditions – too much rain, not enough rain, frost, extended heat waves.

But this spring's biblical rains have at times overwhelmed the courses' drainage systems.

Grover Cleveland, located at the corner of Main Street and Bailey Avenue, opened last year in late April.

This year, crews never had a chance to get the course ready to open because it was so saturated from the unrelenting rain, Rizzo said, with some holes covered in new "lakes."

"The Canada geese were floating in it," he said.

Maintenance crews made progress last week pumping out the fairways, but then the latest storms that came over the weekend and earlier this week set them back again, Rizzo said.

The worst spots on the course are the fairways on holes 5, 6, 7 and 13, which are toward the back of the course near the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"Generally, that is a lower area of the course," Rizzo said.

Crews have to wait for help from a couple of straight days of windy, warm and sunny conditions before they can finish pumping out the fairways.

Elma Meadows, the county's other golf course, opened for the season about two weeks ago and has not had flooding issues, because that course has a different grade and elevation. The course did close twice during the heaviest rains, reopening the next day, and it has played for the most part for walkers only to avoid carts creating ruts in the course, Rizzo said.

The Buffalo Tournament Club opened for the season April 10, and was open as recently as Sunday morning, when it had 30 golfers on the course, Marble said. But the first group only got as far as the sixth tee when the rain got too heavy for play to continue, he said, and the course has been closed ever since.

The course could have opened for walkers, or for golf cart use on its cart paths only, but Buffalo Tournament Club prefers not to do put those restrictions on its golfers.

Now, there is as much as an inch of water pooled on some holes, and a dispiriting forecast for the rest of the week, and Marble said he's hoping to reopen on Monday.

If any course is used to flooding, it's the one with Eighteen Mile Creek in its name.

"We live and die by that creek," said Luke Sullivan, a recreation supervisor for the Town of Hamburg, which operates the course.

Sullivan said the course on Boston State Road floods a couple of times in a typical year, with the most severe in August 2009.

The course opened this year on April 17, but it had to close one day last week and it closed again Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

"Our elevated greens are almost underwater," Sullivan said, adding, "It really just turns into a temporary lake."

Course employees know that if there's heavy rain in the area, the creek will flood half an hour or an hour later.

But the course typically can open the next day, or two days later, Sullivan said. The only problem is when the surging creek waters bring logs, limbs and silt onto the course that have to be cleared as well.

And the weather conditions play a factor, too. "We're just taking it day by day," Sullivan said.

The Town of Tonawanda closed both of its courses, Sheridan Park and Brighton, on Tuesday, but reopened them on Wednesday for walkers only, Ehlers said.

"The ground is obviously moist," he said. "We don't let golf carts out."

Reopening was an impressive feat considering the sea of water that washed onto the 15th fairway at Sheridan Park, rising as much as 10 feet to the top of a bridge that carries golf carts over a creek, Ehlers estimated.

The courses have been open for most of the season since April 19, but employees have asked patrons for their understanding. Crews haven't been able to groom them to the degree they normally would because driving equipment onto them would damage the courses, Ehlers said.

As for what the town is doing now, Ehlers said, "We live on the Weather Channel."

One person in the area who actually wants more wet weather is Michele Litwin, manager of The Dome, the enclosed driving range formerly known as the Wehrle Golf Dome in Clarence, and owner of its pro shop.

This time of year, golfers who are itching to swing their clubs after a long winter break from the game turn to The Dome when their courses are water-logged, Litwin said.

She said The Dome, which reopened in February following extensive renovations, has seen an uptick in business on the recent soggy spring days compared to days earlier in the spring when the temperatures were in the 70s and 80s.

The Dome also has had some foursomes come over to hit golf balls and eat food after finding out wet conditions forced cancellation of a tee time at their course.

"We couldn't be happier," Litwin said.

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