Quechee Club Reborn After Suffering Irene’s Wrath
Two years after Tropical Storm Irene heavily damaged the Quechee Club golf course, it was reopened with improvements last week. From left, Jerard Hankin, of Boca Raton, Fla.; John Fashjian, of Framingham, Mass.; Jim Lavoie, of Quechee; and Ron Galotti, of Pomfret, putt on the fourth green of the Lakeland course on Wednesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee Club property manager Ken Lallier, left, and club member and green chair Ken LaCasse look over a damaged green on the club’s Lakeland Golf Course in August 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Corey Grambling, of White River Junction, mows around the fifth green on the Quechee Club's improved Lakeland Course. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee Club employee Ken Glick dumps silt from a putting green into a bunker during cleanup work in August 2011. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
From left, John Fashjian of Framingham, Mass., Jim Lavoie of Quechee, and Jerard Hankin of Boca Raton, Fla., gather their balls after putting on the fifth green on the Lakeland course. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Quechee — Steve Rogers and Ken Lallier don’t recommend the speed-up method of rehabilitating a golf course. In their case, however, they didn’t have any choice.
Rogers, the Quechee Club’s PGA golf professional, and Lallier, Quechee’s longtime property manager, were well into a four-year project to rehabilitate the private golf club’s 36 greens when Tropical Storm Irene blew through in August 2011. Flooding from the swollen Ottauquechee River destroyed Quechee’s Lakeland layout, damaged a handful of holes on its Highland track and ripped the liner of neighboring Lake Pinneo, the primary water source for making snow on its adjacent ski hill.
Hence, the speed-up program.
What was planned as a 36-month process has been boiled down to 22 months on the courses — both of which will return to full operation today when Highland’s back nine holes reopen from their makeover. The club has a media-and-members celebration planned for June 1 at 2:45 p.m. to officially end a rebuilding project that went far beyond what Rogers and Lallier could have imagined.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking we were in trouble for a long time to come,” Rogers, a 17-year Quechee employee, said this week. “I couldn’t wrap my mind around the scope, but in my mind I was thinking five years. To get back on our feet this quickly is a testament to Ken and his guys and some board members and finance guys with the fortitude to put some money away and work to get the place back.”
The greens rebuilding project began with Highland’s front nine 3½ years ago. Lallier’s crew had already begun redoing Highland’s back nine putting surfaces when Irene did her own course rerouting via the Ottauquechee, which bisects the 36-hole layout.
A bridge spanning the river went with the flood. Crews were at work rebuilding it within 48 hours, Rogers said.
“Our equipment maintenance shed is on the opposite side,” he added. “The golf that was available to us (post-Irene) was a portion of Highland, all on the back nine. We had to get that equipment from the maintenance shack on a trailer to Fat Hat Factory (at Quechee Main Street and U.S. Route 4), then come around on a daily basis to cut the greens and tees. In the interim, with the business, the members had an expectation to use what was in place.”
While completing the Highland work, holes that were well beyond the storm’s reach, Lallier put the project contractor, MacCurrach Golf, of Jacksonville, Fla., to work on reviving Lakeland. That led to an ironic notion: If Quechee had to sustain a natural disaster, Irene couldn’t have been timed better.
“The good news was we already had our golf course contractor scheduled to come after Labor Day to do the back nine Highland greens,” Lallier said. “We made a call and said, ‘Look, we got devastated, and we’re changing our mission from renovating the back nine on Highland to recovering Lakeland.’ We didn’t have to find a contractor. We had one locked and loaded and ready to go.”
Between river-delivered debris, washouts, erosion and silt deposits, “Lakeland was pretty much devastated,” Lallier reported. Silt covered the entire course, killing the grass where it settled.
“There was anywhere from 8 inches to 3 feet of silt and gravel and debris with the river,” Lallier said.
For someone accustomed to the occasional ice-jam fueled Ottauquechee overflow, this was an entirely different level of destruction for Lallier.
“With an ice jam, you don’t get the erosion you typically get,” Lallier said. “This being August, there’s nothing to stop the erosion. Once the sod is broken, the turf goes right behind it. There’s a lot of riverbank damage, a lot of erosion, a lot of trees lost because the ground’s not frozen.”
The Quechee grounds crews first scraped off as much of the silt as possible (Lallier: “It’s not a good growing medium”) and used what they could to fill eroded areas. After clearing debris, they rototilled the remaining turf and reseeded the course, continuing the work until the growing season ended.
“Obviously, we did as much as quickly as we could,” Lallier said, “but by November 2011, we were done. The weather closed us down.”
Crews had half of the Lakeland rebuild going by then; the other half started last summer. Nine Lakeland holes reopened last year, while the remaining nine hosted their first golfers last Friday. With Lake Pinneo’s liner under repair, the ski hill used an alternate water source for snowmaking last winter.
The original $3.5 million budget for the 36-green project increased an additional $1 million because of Irene’s interference. Private clubs can’t access disaster relief funds, according to Lallier, but Quechee was able to cover about a third of the repair costs through loans as well as activating $1 million in flood insurance coverage.
While Irene took Lakeland offline, the repairs haven’t substantially changed the 6,671-yard course, save for some new forward tees.
“We added a couple of bunkers, took some out, removed some trees that were damaged, but the routing is the same,” Lallier added.
Memorial Day weekend usually marks the return of many Quechee members — about a third of the 1,300 members play golf, according to Rogers — from far-flung corners of the country. They’ll find the club pretty much back to normal.
“It’s giving them the comfort of knowing they’re back home, back to normality here,” Rogers said. “Even if we’ve opened one week prior (to the holiday), if we put it off for another week, it would give folks an opportunity to take part in the (June 1) event. Due to some very smart people around here and some planning, we’re back on our feet.”
“We’re excited about this summer, having 36 rebuilt greens, Lakeland renewed,” Lallier said. “We’re very excited and happy to be growing grass instead of being in construction mode.”
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.