The Thailand floods in late 2011 caused serious damage to a number of golf courses. Through the auspices of The R&A’s Director in the Asia-Pacific Region, Dominic Wall, a visit and technical support was provided by agronomist and former CEO of the Australian Golf Course Superintendents Association (AGCSA), John Neylan. John helped provide a number of strategies and information to improve the affected courses.
The damage from flooding“
Northern Rangsit Golf Club was under water for 8 weeks to a depth of 4 yards from mid-October to mid-December 2011 and was one of the worst affected courses. The zoysiagrass that was on all fairways and greens was almost entirely lost during the floods and the club has replaced this with bermuda and seashore paspalum grasses. The club employs 44 greens staff but has very little equipment so most of the renovation work was carried out by hand.
The extent of the damage required labour intensive repairs
Ayutthaya Golf Club was also flooded for 8 weeks from the 7th October. 70% of the fairways were lost however the course only lost one of its bermudagrass greens. The club employs over 30 greenstaff but also used the services of the 250 plus caddies to assist with the renovation. The club also built a new flood levee wall for future protection. The estimated cost of the flood damage and repair work was just under £1 million plus an additional £1.5 million in lost revenue for a total cost of nearly £2.5 million.
The benefits of having a flood levee wall were demonstrated at Bangsai Country Club, which opened in 1995 and is one of the most popular public access courses in the Bangkok area. Bangsai is owned by Mr Pirapon Namatra, who is also the Director of Course Development and Maintenance for the Thailand Golf Association. He has a degree in engineering from the USA which proved beneficial when the course was being constructed as he insisted on a flood levee wall being built prior to work on the course. He investigated this matter with the Thai Department of Transport who informed him about the highest recorded flood level from the last 100 years. He then added one yard to this level and during the 2011 floods the water level reached 1.5 yards from the top of the wall, protecting the course despite its location in one of the most flood affected areas.
In the aftermath of the floods, with no damage to the course, Bangsai averaged 300 players per day, compared to 200 plus prior to the floods. No doubt the flooding of nearby courses assisted Bangsai in attracting more players however the quality, condition and playability (including less penal rough) of the course are also factors.
Bangsai is a very good model for Asia and shows that courses can be financially sustainable without a supporting real estate development or exorbitant green fees.
The financial cost of the floods and lessons learnt
It is difficult to accurately convey the devastation that the floods created in Thailand and the damage which occurred at many golf courses. In financial terms alone, the impact was in excess of £30 million and over 5,000 staff lost employment for up to 6 months.
There were, however, some lessons that were learnt from the floods and, hopefully, the clubs will have taken on some of these points to be better prepared for any future flood events. The key is flood protecting courses with adequate levee walls as was evidenced at Bangsai. In addition, the introduction of grass species that are more likely to survive a flood is essential for golf courses in the area. In terms of recovery, having pumps available to speed up removal of water is important as is cleaning off turf areas as they emerge from flood water. Provision of a boat may be necessary to achieve the rapid cleaning that is essential for quicker recovery.