Golf Course Flooding – Before, During and After

2017 was a record year for flooding. Not only locally but throughout the country.  Hurricanes battered coastal areas and areas inland seemed to trap rain and surge water for what seemed like weeks

July 2017 Rainfall Event – Northeast Illinois

The July 2017 rainfall event that came through a portion of Lake County, Illinois, was one for the ages.   Rainfall depths in some of the areas of the county reached 6+ inches in approximately 12-hours and water surface elevations of waterways reached levels that had never been seen before.

Photos of flooded fairways and greens  located along the Skokie River in Lake County popped up through email and twitter. For some background of the area, during the early 1900s the low-lying land adjacent to rivers and waterways were prime locations to construct golf courses. How prime?  There are approximately 11 golf courses built adjacent to the 13 miles of the Skokie River.

Bob O’Link Golf Club

The location of Bob O’ Link golf course is unique.  Located near southern boundary of Lake County it is divided by the Skokie River.  The tributary area is approximately 20 square miles with 85% developed with residential, commercial and industrial facilities. The long and narrow shaped watershed allows stormwater to fill streams and sewers quickly, resulting it flash flooding.

These flash flood events produce a devastating amount of damage to residential and commercial structures, they also recede quickly and get back within the banks in a relatively short time period.  For example, by the time the Skokie River had reached peak water surface elevations and returned to its banks, many of the larger waterways in the county were still days away from reaching its peak, let alone recede.

Prior to Flood Event:

Bob O’Link Golf Club

Bob O’Link Golf Club

During the Flood Event:

Flooded Conditions – July 2017
Flooded Conditions – July 2017
Flooded Conditions – July 2017
Flooded Condition – July 2017

I’ve had opportunities in my career to see the areas flooded with stormwater but never a chance to see what devastation it leaves behind on a golf course until this event came through.

I reached out to Scott Pavalko, Director of Agronomy at Bob O’Link Golf Club, to ask a few questions regarding the impact, the frequency that this occurs and what goes into getting the course back to playing conditions.

Huge thanks to Scott Pavalko of Bob O’Link Golf Club for helping out with this. You can find Scott on Twitter @spavalko. All photos used were provided by Scott. Remember to thank your superintendent for getting the course ready every day and especially after the storm of the century rolls through.

Q: How often does the river coming out of bank and flooding the course happen?

A: In my limited history here, I would say the average is 1 to 2 times per season.  This was by far the worst but it was our second flood in 3 weeks.

 Q: What are the biggest concerns when water comes out of bank and inundates the fairways?

A: We have a few concerns.  Typically the largest concern is the silt that will be left behind after the water recedes.  Depending on the temperatures, scorching of the turf can also be a concern.  This typically occurs where the standing water is most shallow.  The extreme wet conditions also create an environment that encourages turf diseases.  In particular pythium blight can damage large areas of turf in a short period of time and is expensive to treat.


July 2017 Flood Aftermath

Q:  Do the floodwaters impact any tees or greens at Bob O’Link?

A:  We have a couple (2) of very small tees that were underwater during this most recent flood.  This is the first time that I have seen them under water. When we built the tees we attempted to grade them to be above the 100yr flood elevation so either we made a mistake or this most recent storm exceeded that elevation.

Q: From this past event, how long did it take floodwaters to get back within the banks?

A:  The Skokie river came out of its banks sometime on Tuesday night into wed early morning.(July 11th-July12)  We were “fully flooded” all day Wednesday and Thursday.  On Friday we could visibly detect the waters receding.  On Friday at 3pm our pump system was finally able to begin to remove water from the property.  By Saturday morning all standing water was gone with the exception of very small puddles in the rough where no grading was done.

Q: You recently updated your drainage system, how has that helped with time to the course open for play?

A:  The drainage upgrades have made a tremendous positive impact on the property both during flood events and also during normal heavy rain events. A few of the most impactful things about the drainage improvements are that we are able to drain areas of the property independent of the level of the Skokie River.  Also, the backflow prevention has made a huge difference.  We would often experience water surcharging onto the property when the canal level was rising.  Lastly, the grading that was done has provided us the opportunity to move the silt off of the fairways after the flood waters recede.  We do this by literally washing the areas with water.

Q:  What are the big maintenance items that need to be done after water recedes?

A: Beyond repairing bunkers that were in the flooded areas, the first priority is to remove silt from the turf.

Silt Cleanup – July 2017


Silt Cleanup – July 2017

A silt layer that is left behind from flood waters can “seal” off the soil, preventing gas exchange and starving the roots from oxygen.  This layer will also inhibit infiltration, making the affected areas stay wetter longer during future rain events.  We will then exercise great caution when performing maintenance to the flooded areas.  The turf that lives through the flood will typically be very weak and unable to withstand any mechanical traffic.  Depending on the situation, we will mow the turf at a higher height of cut and use mowers that are much less aggressive.  For instance, we have mowed several fairways with walking mowers that would typically be used for greens since the recent flood.  We are unable to was silt in many areas of the rough.  To help prevent layering in these areas, we brush the areas with a specially designed machine that is pulled behind a utility vehicle, then we scarify the ground to at least create voids in the silt layer, then mow.  These areas will be high priority for aerification practices when conditions are appropriate.


The other main consideration is that saturated conditions create an environment where turf diseases are more prevalent.  Most turf managers’ most feared disease is Pythium blight.  This is a water-borne fungus that can kill large areas within hours of infection.  The spores of this disease can actively swim in standing water allowing it to spread quickly.  After flooding events we continuously scout known problem areas to see if there is any active disease.  In some cases we may make a preventative application of plant protectants, especially if there will be extended wet conditions after a flooding event.

Looking at the photos and talking to Scott really gave me a better awareness to what goes on when golf courses take on record amounts of rain. Bob O’Link Golf Club recently completed a renovation that allowed them to update a drainage system and also install a system that gets flooded areas drained as quickly as possible. Prior to the drainage improvements, its possible that the damages to course may have been much more extensive and taken much more time getting the course back to normal conditions.

Once again, I have to thank Scott for taking the time to send over some photos and provide a wealth of information to digest.



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