Galveston's Moody Gardens Golf Course spits in the eye of Hurricane Ike

By Mike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

GALVESTON, Texas - Golf wasn't exactly a priority on Galveston Island two months after Hurricane Ike, but it - Moody Gardens Golf Course - was there if you wanted it. And it was pretty decent golf at that, all things considered.

Moody Gardens Golf Course - Hole 10
Just two months after Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston, the 10th hole at Moody Gardens Golf Course was rounding back into form.
Moody Gardens Golf Course - Hole 10Moody Gardens Golf Course - BridgeMoody Gardens Golf Course - Shrimp BoatMoody Gardens Golf Course - 3-Wheeler
If you go

Just a few hundred yards from the Gulf of Mexico where Hurricane Ike made a direct hit on Sept. 12, the newly renovated Moody Gardens Golf Course stood out like a bright green emerald among the rubble that had yet to be cleared from the island. Inundated by 13 feet of storm surge that rose above the seawall, Moody Gardens Golf Course did more than survive; it came through like a champ. And although nobody would trivialize the impact of Ike, with damage estimates as high as $18 billion in the region, as far as public golf in Galveston is concerned, this may just be remembered by golfers as a bump in the road.

Of course to those who worked to get the golf course ready again, it was much more than a bump, but it could have been a lot worse. Much of the credit goes back to the choice of grass during a $17 million renovation that was just completed three months earlier.

Superintendent Steve Yarotsky, who grew in the course, said if he wasn't totally sold on the benefits of paspalum before, he's a believer now. The course has Sea Isle Supreme on the greens and Sea Spray seashore paspalum in the fairways and roughs. Paspalum is saltwater tolerant, but not necessarily saltwater proof. It performed beyond expectations.

"It's an amazing grass," Yarotsky said.

Once the debris was removed - and there was plenty of that - and Yarotsky could start watering again, the fairways and greens soon perked up, showing the brilliant green they impressed visitors with during the well-received grand reopening three months earlier. As the course prepared to enter the winter of 2008-09, it hardly looked the worse for wear, save the 71 bunkers, which all had to be rebuilt, but still had plenty of sand providing the definition that this course once lacked.

A golf course manager's nightmare

For Yarotsky and Moody Gardens General Manager Bill Pushak, what they came back to in mid-September will probably invade their dreams for some time. The scenes were surreal - a grounded shrimp boat, somebody's three-wheeler, one of the course's bridges next to a green (the bridges were designed to float in such a scenario) and tons of debris strewn throughout. Once workers could get back to the course, they worked around the clock, clearing the mess.

The biggest problem, Yarotsky said, was that allSaturday, Oct. 18, about the brand new irrigation boxes were submerged by saltwater. All had to be replaced at a cost of around $120,000. Bunker faces also had to be resodded, and nearly 30 palm trees had to be replanted. The newly gutted and renovated clubhouse was also flooded by rain and the leaks through its roof, which was damaged by sustained winds of 110 mph that lasted well over 10 hours.

For five weeks, Moody Gardens Golf Course had no power or phone, but crews still managed to get the course ready. On Saturday, Oct. 18, about 70 players - most of them local - escaped the horrific scenes around them for a day on the links. Many of them couldn't even stay in their own homes still.

Getting the word out: 'We're open'

With the phones still out some five weeks after Ike, however, the challenge remained as to how to get the word out that Moody Gardens Golf Course was back in business.

Pushak used the course's Web site to advertise the reopening. Green fees were temporarily reduced while the bunkers still needed to be repaired. Still, as the area recovered, golfers were slow to return.

"We didn't feel like this was $75 golf course with the bunkers out of play," said Pushak, who started here in February after moving from Cincinnati. "But we did feel it was still a $50 golf course."

Indeed, and that's for non-county residents. Islanders pay half as much.

One reason for renovation was to build up Moody Gardens as a golf destination - the perfect day or weekend trip for the 5 million people living in the Houston area. The municipal course, which is run by the Moody Foundation, is paired with Moody Gardens, a pyramid-themed nature park that can be seen from the golf course. Moody Gardens suffered its share of damage from Ike as well, but it too opened just weeks after the storm, as did the resort's hotel. Their opening, it seems, would be one of the first real signs of a long recovery for an island. An island, by the way, whose chief industry is tourism.

Mike BaileyMike Bailey, Senior Staff Writer

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Awesome course

    Terry wrote on: Jul 24, 2012

    Played on July 2012 and loved the course. It was extremely well kept and marked. I thought everyone was friendly and helpful. Fully enjoyed my round at Moody Gardens! Top notch facility


  • I Disagree

    brian wrote on: Feb 6, 2010

    Im going to disagree with Oscar. Ive played the golf course a few times and found it to be the best track south of Houston. The staff was nice and their burgers are on point. Sounds like the group above may have had a few to many beers.



    oscar d wrote on: Sep 21, 2009

    This course is under staffed and very amateur like. My party had a great time up until the last hole when the staff decided to be impatient about us returning our golf carts. The staff decided to call the cops on us and tried to say that we were trespassing on their property. NEVER AGAIN WILL I RETURN TO THIS GOLF COURSE. I had twenty people in my party and they WILL NOT BE RETURNING AS WELL!!! They had a recent renovation on the course...they should renovate their staff!!!