COUNTDOWN TO PGA: This is part of an occasional series leading up to the 94th PGA Championship in August on Kiawah Island.
The Ocean Course was little more than salt marsh, sand dunes and an evil gleam in Pete Dye's eye when Hurricane Hugo slammed into the Lowcountry on Sept. 22, 1989.
As the Category 4 storm ripped through South Carolina — it caused 27 fatalities in the state and more than $10 billion in damage overall — it also wreaked havoc on the site of the Ocean Course, on the far end of Kiawah Island.
Dye, the noted golf-course architect, was racing to build the Ocean Course in time for the 1991 Ryder Cup. Hugo washed sand dunes into the Atlantic Ocean and ripped up trees, depositing them into the island's lagoons. Dye and his crew had to commute to the Kiawah by boat in order to clean up the damage.
“We had just started clearing the course, and here came Hugo,” Dye once recalled. “And Hugo annihilated all the bushes and all the trees and everything. You couldn't even get out to the island because the road was closed.
“We barged a lot of the material in from Beaufort … It was an entirely different process after the hurricane.”
Twenty-three years later, Dye's creation is being readied for another major event, the 94th PGA Championship set for Aug. 9-12 — as fate would have it, approaching the height of another hurricane season in South Carolina.
Early August is when hurricane season begins to ramp up, according to WCBD-TV meteorologist Rob Fowler. And PGA officials are certainly aware.
“We have talked about that scenario,” said Brett Sterba, PGA Championship director. “We have action plans in place for various emergencies. But until we really know what is in front of us, it's hard to spell out a specific plan. We'll follow the normal protocol, the directives of the governor and other officials, to keep everyone safe if that situation should arise.”
Experts predicted a slightly slower than normal hurricane season for 2012, projecting 11 tropical storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. The hurricane season stretches from June 1 to Nov. 30.
But Fowler says the season is off to a fast start, with four storms already in the books.
“That's never happened before,” Fowler said. “The first storm doesn't typically form until July 9, and usually the first hurricane doesn't form until Aug. 10.
“So we're off to a big start, but you can't look at that and say the rest of the year will be active. You just have to wait and see.”
According to the website hurricanecity.com, Charleston is impacted by a hurricane every 3.1 years and has averaged a direct hit from a hurricane every 10.77 years. The website says that, statistically, Charleston should be hit again before the end of 2012.
It's been eight years since the last hurricanes (Charley and Gaston) to impact Charleston passed through two weeks apart in August of 2004.
“August and September are the two most active months, with September the most active,” Fowler said. “About the time the PGA is coming, that's when things start to happen, historically.”
Hurricanes have played havoc with PGA Tour events before. Just last year, the fourth round of The Barclays tournament in Edison, N.J., was canceled due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene, which was a Category 1 storm when it made landfall at the Outer Banks of North Carolina on Aug. 27.
PGA Tour officials decided to cut the tournament to 54 holes and get out of harm's way before Irene barreled into New Jersey and then Brooklyn.
In 2005, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in Madison, Miss. — at that time, the only Tour event sponsored by an insurance company — was completely wiped out by Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history.
Katrina struck southeastern Louisiana on Aug. 29, more than a month ahead of the Classic, set for Oct. 6-9. But six inches of rain, downed trees and shortages of power, gas and hotel rooms led PGA Tour officials to push the tournament back a month to November.
In between, Annandale Golf Club had to deal with further damage from Hurricane Rita in September. The hurricane-plagued tourney had a nice ending, however, when Heath Slocum, son of a longtime Mississippi club pro, won the delayed event, and net proceeds were donated to Katrina victims.
When can PGA officials feel safe that they won't have to make similar decisions?
Fowler pointed out that it was 13 days between Hugo's birth as a tropical depression off the coast of Africa and its destructive arrival in the Lowcountry.
“If there's nothing out there on the first weekend of August,” he said, “I will feel pretty confident.”