By Joshua Price
Silver Lakes Golf Course was virtually destroyed by tornados that ravaged northern and central Alabama on April 27, 2011.
The tornado plowed through the middle of the Glencoe-area course around 4:30 p.m. and no structures were left undamaged. The clubhouse, the pump-house and small buildings and sheds throughout the course suffered an estimated $5 million.
Some buildings were completely destroyed, including various types of equipment and tools. The maintenance facility, which stores all the course’s tools and equipment, was completely destroyed. The new building is nearing completion.
Silver Lakes Director of Golf Jason Callan said there was more to the tornado damage than structural.
“We had significant damage across the property,” Callan said. “An estimated 40,000 trees were destroyed on the course property. Most of those were in view of the clubhouse area. Every hole on the course was touched in some way by the tornado. Some holes had less damage than others, but all were effected in some way.”
Callan said many holes received major makeovers because of the loss of trees.
“We shifted around a few sand bunkers and even added a few to some of the holes,” Callan said. “Heartbreakers 1 and 7 sustained more damage than any holes on the course, and they received new sand dunes and lakes.”
Callan said architects improved the course with other “tweaks.”
“Many cart paths were moved closer to the tee areas and greens to better accommodate our guests,” Callan said. “Some of the holes were known for difficult access, so this is definitely an improvement.”
Callan said there were many doubts as to whether the course would reopen.
“Many people thought Dr. Bronner would try to reopen the course with 18 holes, 27 championship holes or close the course indefinitely,” Callan recalled, “He decided to rebuild and reopen all 36 holes.
“We started the cleanup process immediately after Dr. [David] Bronner and Retirement Systems of Alabama decided to keep the course open,” Callan said. “Silver Lakes, at peak season, employs around 100 people, and we utilized them during the summer to bring the golf course back to life.”
Silver Lakes reopened on September 23, nearly five months after the tornado.
“Perception is the biggest change,” Callan added. “It’s still the same course, just without the ‘borders.’ We really didn’t have to do too much, mostly just cleanup.”
Callan is pleased with the results of the course’s most notable change the visual -landscape.
“Without all the trees it is definitely a different looking course,” Callan said. “The look is really great now. The views are longer now and players can see the Appalachian Hills in the background. Long, panoramic views are beautiful. It will take some time to mature with the new grasses we planted, but by the springtime we should see the true beauty of the ‘new’ course.”
Callan said every putting green on the course received new grass.
“We re-grassed all 36 greens on the property. The type of grass we put on is a warm season grass and is the most innovative grass available on the market. It will cut maintenance costs. The greens are a little soft still, but they should be ready to go soon.”
Callan said the course has not suffered financially due to extending closing for cleanup. Players from around the country and from all corners of the world still schedule tee times.
“Local play has been fantastic. We didn’t have to do a lot of marketing for tourists for the fall. The response has been remarkable. More people come to see it than in the past, maybe because of the renovations. It is kind of like a new course now!”
Callan pointed to the support of the community for quick comeback of the golf course.
“Dr. Bronner, the RSA, the community and local business leaders really stepped up to make sure we stayed open. Economically, this is a valuable place for this part of the state. We get travelers from across the country and different parts of the world, just to play golf. Hotels, restaurants and other business profit from this.”
“We have made the very best of a very difficult situation. I am interested to see how it looks when the trees are in bloom and the Bermuda [grass] is in full color. I am excited for all the people who are already scheduled to come play from around the country. Progress has been very good so far, and I am thrilled about this spring.”