NIWOT — When spring draws near, the owners and employees at Haystack Mountain Golf Course typically are readying the year-round, nine-hole course for the busy season.
The family-owned operation usually is hashing out marketing strategies, inspecting its rental clubs, prepping the food-service operations and tending to the grounds of the executive-length course tucked along the back of a bumpy dirt driveway off Niwot Road.
Haystack's priorities are different this year.
Floodwaters from last September's historic storm overwhelmed the property at 5877 Niwot Road, causing extensive damage to about three-quarters of the nearly 50-year-old course.
An army of volunteers helped to remove debris and mud to get the course playable two weeks after the flood, but plenty of work remained and financial resources grew thinner for the small business.
A week out from spring, Boulder-area golf courses are in varying degrees of post-flood health. Coal Creek Golf Course in Louisville is not expected to reopen until next year, while it's business as usual for operations such as Boulder's Flatirons Golf Course.
For the course with the motto of "everyone learns to play golf at Haystack," it's a cash-strapped race against the clock. Spring run-off and hot-weather days are coming, so clearing debris from Left Hand Creek and restoring a retention pond are keys to the course's survival.
"There won't be any golf course if we don't see to it that it's well taken care of," said Lois Ebel, who, with her ex-husband, purchased the 240-acre tract of land that included Haystack Mountain in 1963.
When the Ebel family used their savings to buy the Haystack property, they offered free room and board for temporary workers who helped to install pipes and built the course by hand.
The course was designed and priced to reduce barriers of entry to the game of golf, said Ebel, 81. It's a course for beginners to learn the game and its rules, and a place where golfers of all abilities can hone their skills — especially for their short games — in a casual setting, she said.
After Haystack opened in 1966, it was quickly tested.
In 1969, four days of rainfall caused the neighboring Left Hand Creek to swell and flood the course.
"It was pretty shocking; we had just opened three years before," Ebel said.
Luckily, she said, a tree fell in the right direction and diverted potentially devastating waters.
The 1969 flood saturated portions of the course, but it did not compare to what happened this past September, she said.
Six months ago, as Left Hand Creek overflowed to the south, waters from the St. Vrain River spilled into the already inundated Boulder Feeder Canal.
"It got fed," Ebel said.
The canal breached, causing water to rush across the course, sweep away bridges and dump hundreds of tons of silt on greens and fairways and into the retention ponds.
The flood destroyed the clubhouse's porch and basement, the latter resulting in the loss of cold storage, beer lines, food and supplies.
Ebel's house — notably her basement, furnace and garden-level kitchen — was hit hard by the flood waters.
The river that rushed through the course left eight inches of sediment stacked up on the No. 8 green. It took a crew of four people working 10-hour shifts for 10 days to save the putting surface.
The course's largest pond — a 10-foot-deep, 150-by-150-foot water hazard below the elevated tee on hole 7 — was filled nearly to the brim with the black, pancake batter-like muck, said Clay Johns, who has served as Haystack's course superintendent since 1983.
"It's not a normal thing to do, dig out a lake full of silt," Johns said last week, as a beastly excavator continued to eat away at the thick sediment.
The damage to Haystack was estimated at $500,000, Ebel said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency directed Ebel to the Small Business Administration, which evaluated the business for a flood relief loan. After wading through a slew of paperwork, Ebel was approved for a $450,000 loan that carried 4 percent simple interest.
The issue, however, is that this heavily scrutinized financing comes in pieces as the administration gives a close eye to where the money is spent, she said. To date, Haystack has received about $50,000 from the loan.
"Yeah, we're scratching," she said. "We're a small business."
Ebel said her family was fortunate because they had money in the bank and no debt. That helped, but it hasn't been easy.
Ebel used a credit card to buy an old Boulder County bridge from an online auction. That structure will replace the man-made bridge and temporary culvert that currently rests between holes 4 and 5.
"If we don't (remove the dirt-covered culvert), we'll have a stop-gap," she said.
Filled up 'like a bathtub'
Getting Haystack open and keeping it operational — albeit at a hampered state — are keys to the course's survival, Ebel said. Any extra revenue is beneficial.
While Haystack emerged heavily weathered from the storm, not all of Boulder County's public courses will be back on-line this year.
Coal Creek Golf Course, off Dillon Road in Louisville, is not expected to be operational until the spring of 2015.
The floods brought the par-72, 6,879-yard course "to a screeching halt," Louisville's director of Parks and Recreation said two weeks after the flood.
The flood damaged 14 of the course's 18 holes, washed out more than 30 bunkers, destroyed three bridges and wrecked the irrigation system. Early estimates pegged the damage at roughly $3.5 million.
That was conservative.
Last month, the Louisville City Council approved a $5.15 million contract with Landscapes Unlimited LLC for emergency repairs on the city's sole municipal golf course.
City officials hope that FEMA could shoulder about $2 million of the costs.
"One worry I have with FEMA is that what they consider to be eligible is not the same as what we consider to be eligible," Joe Stevens, Louisville Parks and Recreation director, said last month.
City officials have said they expect the course to reopen in the spring of 2015.
As Coal Creek rebuilds, neighboring courses such as Indian Peaks Golf Course in Lafayette and the Omni Interlocken Resort Golf Club in Broomfield have offered discounted rates and set aside dates on their calendars for Coal Creek's club members.
"We provided some assistance to some of the clubs," said Monte Stevenson, director of parks, open space and golf at the city of Lafayette. "They're anxious for their golf course to be reopened and we're glad to be able to help in the interim."
Indian Peaks emerged relatively unscathed after the rain and floods, Stevenson said. The most substantial damage incurred was in the neighboring open space land.
Across U.S. 36, the Omni's course lost six days of play, said Larry Collins, director of golf.
The deluge dropped 10 inches of rain on the course, which took about four to six weeks to return to normal play, he said.
"It got so saturated, we couldn't get the mowers out there," he said. "It added about 200 tons of sand back into our bunkers."
The Broadlands Golf Course in Broomfield had some flooding, but also sustained minimal damage, said Tim Schwartz, general manager.
"There was a little erosion around some of the creeks and a large drain was damaged," Schwartz wrote in an e-mail to the Daily Camera. "Everything was cleaned up and repaired. We are running in full swing for the 2014 season.
"We were able to make some improvements for water-flow in the event of another deluge of rain."
The St. Vrain-Left Hand flooding in Longmont caused $340,000 in damage to Twin Peaks Golf Course, which reopened in early October. All three of the city's courses remain operational.
In Boulder, the Flatirons Golf Course received 18 inches of rain in a three-day period. The puddle-ridden course was closed for eight days.
"We were just waiting for it to stop so we could get it cleaned up," said Doug Cook, director golf at Flatirons. "...We weren't able to run carts for the rest of the month, but we did get it cleaned up enough to run our city championship at the end of September."
Flatirons lost sand in about six of its bunkers and also lost a wooden footbridge.
Depending on the final cost of the replacement bridge, the total damage to the course is estimated between $50,000 and $75,000, said Jeff Haley, parks and planning manager for the city of Boulder.
The city is using funds from its capital improvement program to pay for the repairs, he said, adding that FEMA potentially could reimburse up to 75 percent of those costs.
Cook said Flatirons is back to normal.
"It didn't take us long at all," he said. "We filled up more like a bathtub while some of the other courses had the water raging through them."
Returning to normalcy
Until Haystack reaches some sort of normalcy, the course has dropped its 9-hole fee from up to $16 to $11 across the board, said Mike Hammerstone, operations manager.
"We know it's not perfect out there," Ebel said.
The post-flood conditions haven't kept a lot of regulars off the course.
Jim Wilson, a neighboring resident to the course, has continued his routine of playing a quick nine at Haystack during his lunch break.
"I try to come out two to three times a week," said Wilson, 62, a business consultant who works from home. "It's kind of perfect. I can skip lunch and play nine holes."
Wilson, who is dealing with flood repairs of his own, said that he has tried to support his neighborhood course since the storm.
The conditions may not be completely up to par, but he still enjoys the quick round.
"There are plenty of new hazards," Wilson said, laughing. "It's just one of those courses where you can come out and get out the stress."
Although well-worn, Haystack was never beaten, Ebel said as she was quick to unearth a few positives that resulted.
The forest undergrowth should help with limiting the mosquito population, the silt could provide good nutrients for the ground and the fairways are starting to green, she said.
"Grass is very forgiving," she said. "It comes up. It wants to grow."
The vast clearing of trees on the course might actually benefit some holes on the par-32, 2,153-yard course — notably hole 9. The par-3 previously entailed a pitch shot over tangling branches and Left Hand Creek.
"It's an easier shot now," she said.
Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or email@example.com