After a huge storm that caused a lot of damage to the course, we all had a better understanding of the sheer power of Mother Nature.
It was the night before Thanksgiving. We had made plans for a family get together the next morning. Our newborn son and
young daughter were not sleeping well because of the loud clatter from the windblown rain hitting the bedroom windows.
An occasional grumbling was booming far in the distance but becoming a little more consistent. Since we have spent a few years in the mountains it seemed like a normal winter storm.
Later that night a loud bang shook through the house like a freight train. The storm was right over us. I could hear the shingles slapping on top of the roof. I woke up to check on the kids to see if anyone was scared. Surprisingly the kids were sound asleep. I went back to sleep, but I tossed and turned from the percussion of the storm.
The next morning, we were welcomed with the fresh smell of rain in Arizona. Everything went as planned for getting the family ready. We got everyone into their seats and buckled in. We had a short trip before we would be with family to share what would be a wonder Thanksgiving together.
I was putting the final bags into the car when my phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID and saw it was my Assistant. A realization came over me leaving the hair on my arms standing on end. The storm last night had to have done some damage to the course. My mind quickly flashes through all the large trees around the greens, hoping that one of those was not lying across a green.
I answered the phone.
As my assistant greeted me with his usual salutations I was on edge waiting for the meat of the story. He explained that a tree had been hit by lightning on the sixth hole. I remembered the last lightning strike, which disabled a few solenoids and a couple lightning arrestors, but nothing major. I was about to quiz him on the incident, but before I could he began to explain the rest of the damage.
With a little more depth he started to describe the horrible mess. The lightning ripped down the tree and through the roots finding the nearest sprinkler head. As it traveled through the roots toward the sprinkler, soil and rock was blasted out of the ground.
The sprinkler exploded at first contact spreading Toro shrapnel all over the course.
The electrical charge made use of the 24 gauge wire that ran to the head from the satellite. The wire melted as the electricity burst through it and shattered the 2 inch PVC lateral into shards 18 inches below ground. It followed the lateral pipe through the wire and back to the saddle on the 6 inch mainline. The force of the electricity cracked the mainline.
I headed into work on my way out of town to see the carnage. Just as my Assistant described, it looked like a meteor had hit the right side of the 6th hole. After assessing the damage, I realized that we could not do immediate repairs.
Monday morning I was at ground zero, inspecting the damage and formulating a plan of attack. We started to dig around some of the damaged heads and at the mainline where a majority of the earth was already washed away. In all the shards of pipe and liquefied wire, we also found a 4” drain line melted like the wax of a candle.
We started to work our way out from the heads in the field back to the satellites, assessing the damage. The satellites had melted wires, doors blown out into the bushes and electronics blackened by the heat. It followed the wiring from the heads back to the nearest satellite and so on. In total, five satellites were fried.
It took us over a month to complete all the repairs from new plumbing in the field to electronics replacement and repair. The total damage cost over fifty thousand dollars.
We found out later that the house just up the hill from our strike was hit as well. The lightning was so forceful that it blew the double doors open in the front of the house. The lightning storm the night before Thanksgiving will not soon be forgotten.
While we were fortunate that no one was injured during our incident, the situation reminds me constantly to respect the power of Mother Nature. She’s someone we Superintendents have to deal with day in and day out.