‘The worst I’ve ever seen’: How extreme wind, rain affected Sacramento-area golf courses

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Golf courses throughout the Sacramento region are in recovery mode after intense wind and rainfall hit the area earlier this month.

“We lost about 70 trees total between the two courses,” said Murray Salisbury, the tournament coordinator at the popular Haggin Oaks Golf Complex. “There was a lot standing water, and we had a lot of new animals floating around, ducks and geese. It was pretty significant.”

Sacramento was pelted with the most rain it has seen in years during intense winter storms throughout the first half of January. The moisture in the soil paired with wind gusts up to 70 mph during the weekend of Jan. 7 led to trees throughout the area toppling to the ground. It is estimated the city of Sacramento lost roughly 1,000 trees to the conditions.

Salisbury has been at Haggin Oaks, which has two courses, Alister Mackenzie and Arcade Creek, for roughly four years. Most of the trees that went down in the storm were on Arcade Creek, though the Mackenzie course lost a large oak tree near the seventh tee box that had been a course staple. Salisbury estimated the tree was 400 years old.

“I do think that’s probably one of the worst (storms) I’ve ever seen,” Salisbury said. “I don’t think we’ve had that kind of significant damage before at this course.”

The wet conditions at Haggin and other golf courses, of course, slowed business substantially. Golf became a booming industry in Sacramento and throughout the country during the pandemic, when a slew of people took up golf as a hobby to get outside while most public places were closed.

But the recent storms caused a big hit to the local golf scene.

“In January last year, we did a little over 4,000 rounds,” said Curt David, the general manager at William Land Golf Course in Land Park. “We won’t do 300 to 400 this January.”

A visitor to William Land Golf Course walks past two downed trees near the 4th hole on Jan. 12, during a break in the storms in the Sacramento area.
A visitor to William Land Golf Course walks past two downed trees near the 4th hole on Jan. 12, during a break in the storms in the Sacramento area.

Of course, last winter was abnormally dry amid California’s historic drought. The rain this month has provided at least temporary relief from extreme drought conditions while negatively impacting the business side of golf courses.

“We’ll do one-tenth (of business) of what we did last year,” David said. “So quite a bit of impact that impacts our cafe as well. It’s been closed and we just sent home staff because of that. And this year, there’s now the expense of tree removal, tens of thousands of dollars to get them picked up, cut up, chipped up, and that’ll be at our expense from our company to do ones that are on the golf course.”

Both Haggin Oaks and William Land brought in private companies to remove some of the bigger trees, while there was a cooperative effort with the local municipality to help remove others that fell.

“They had Cal Fire out here for about three or four days and those guys go through a tree in about 20 minutes with as highly trained as those guys are with the chainsaw,” Davis said. “We’ve also had the sheriff’s work furlough crew out here about five or six times.”

Not every course was hit as substantially. Teal Bend, just west of Sacramento Airport, didn’t report any major disruption from the storms outside of losing a large tree near the practice putting green because the course drains well. Bing Maloney, just south of Land Park, also withstood most of the elements without a loss unique to the season.

“We had to close the front nine for like a day, and then have cart path only because the ground is so saturated,” said George Golden, tournament director at Bing Maloney.

The good news for the local golf courses is the extreme rain appears to have subsided, at least for the foreseeable future. Forecasts into early February suggest only light rainfall over the next two weeks. More than 99% of California remains “abnormally dry,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, though conditions are improving.