Better to Wait Than Play Through Nate October 9, 2017 | Atlanta, Ga. By Stuart Hall

The maintenance staff performed yeoman's duty in getting the venues prepared after Tropical Storm Nate rolled through the area on Sunday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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Bill McCarthy and Kyle Marshall were made aware of Hurricane Nate on Oct. 4, the day before the official practice rounds for the 37th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship were to begin at Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course and stroke play co-host Atlanta National Golf Club.

“As soon as our meteorologist [Ben Woods] got on site Wednesday morning and fired up [his computer],” said McCarthy, director of the U.S. Mid-Am Championship, of his introduction to Nate, which was a hurricane that was spinning through the Gulf of Mexico and whose presence at this championship would likely be felt over the weekend.

As Saturday’s first round of stroke play unfolded, clarity was gained about Sunday’s weather forecast. The prevailing model was for Hurricane Nate to bring up to 4 inches of rain and wind gusts close to 40 miles per hour.

“We always wait as long as possible before making any type of decision regarding play,” McCarthy said.

In addition to the safety of 264 golfers competing at Capital City Club and neighboring Atlanta National Golf Club, along with hundreds of volunteers, there were a number of other logistical factors to consider.

“Just trying to come up with a plan as far as removing things that could be damaged – banners, tee signs, directional signs, coolers, trash cans, tents – and then the bigger plan of how to get them back out for play to start on time,” said Kyle Marshall, Capital City Club’s director of golf courses and grounds. 

After discussions between Woods, USGA officials and grounds crews, a decision to postpone play for Sunday was made early Saturday evening.

“Once we had everything in place, you pretty much ride it out,” Marshall said.

Nate, which had become a tropical depression by Sunday morning, turned out to be not as bad as anticipated. Rainfall on the course was estimated at 2 inches, and top wind gusts were 38 mph at Fulton County Airport. Locally, they were measured between 25 and 35 mph.

“From an operational standpoint, we were fortunate because the forecasts were severe,” McCarthy said. “And even [Sunday] morning with a high chance of thunderstorms and heavy rain, we anticipated a lot of debris.”

The host courses held their own against Nate’s best shot.

“Bunkers held up excellent, there were a couple of finger washes around the course, no real debris, just some leaves and pine straw and things that were easy to clean up,” said Marshall, whose Capital City grounds staff monitored and maintained the course as the various bands of weather rolled through on Sunday. Crews were also out at 4 a.m. Monday to prepare the courses for the second round of stroke play. They cut greens, restored signage and returned tents to their proper locations.

McCarthy said that after the fact, there is always the inevitable “what if?” question.

“The frustrating side when you roll back the clock, you think ‘Aw, man, we could have played a little golf yesterday morning,’” he admits. “But in the interest of player safety [we decided against it]. A big key to this was the volunteers. That all of the volunteers from the Crabapple [Course at Capital City Club] live down in Brookhaven [near downtown Atlanta] and that’s a 45-minute ride.”

Had the forecast called for the heavy rains and winds to arrive at noon on Sunday, McCarthy said play could not have continued at that point. Time needed to be allotted for allowing the volunteers to return home and for staff at both stroke-play venues to take the necessary precautions. That, McCarthy said, would likely have pushed the available playing time window back to 9:30 or 10 a.m.

“In a perfect world, we would have been able to get some of the groups off [Sunday],” said McCarthy, “but then if we would have had lightning or heavy rains, we thought why put the players through that? Ultimately, the decision was made to postpone to [Monday] when he have more typical thunderstorm weather that we can monitor and handle. There were plusses and minuses.”

The second round started as scheduled on Monday, making Nate a distant memory.

Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites

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