Battered, now better
Hurricanes Irma and Maria damaged Corales Golf Club. Determined superintendent Julio Díaz and his crew prepped the course for its first PGA Tour event six months later.
The first storm ripped apart the course on a Thursday.
Winds whipped, faster and faster, and sand shuffled out from the bunkers. Rocks surged up onto the greens from the ocean below. Everything that had remained outdoors rather than shuttled into the relative safety of the clubhouse had found a new location across acres of disruption.
Hurricane Irma was not the first storm to touch down on Corales Golf Club in the Dominican resort haven of Punta Cana — though it was the first during the tumultuous hurricane season of 2017. “The people here are very used to hurricanes,” says Julio Díaz, the veteran superintendent for both Corales and its 27-hole neighbor, La Cana. “Hurricane season comes and we worry about a lot, but we get so used to them coming, we say, ‘Oh, we can manage a hurricane.’” But Irma, a Category 5 hurricane whose sustained winds eventually reached 180 mph and resulted in 134 deaths and more than $77 billion in damages across the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, was “a disaster,” he says.
Díaz hunkered down for a night, then emerged the next day, along with the 120 other members of his crew and the thousands of Puntacana Resort & Club employees, to repair their oasis on the eastern tip of Hispaniola. Work started almost immediately to reshape the battered course, to build up from one meter to two the crucial seawall that protected a sextet of oceanside holes, to prepare Corales for its transition from what was then the Web.com Tour to its first PGA Tour event.
And then, on another Thursday, after less than two weeks of focused, frenzied work, the second storm hit.
The Dominican Republic is not particularly large — its almost 11 million residents are scattered around a country about half the size of Indiana and the island of Hispaniola is a little smaller than Maine — and neither is its number of courses. When Díaz was born 54 years ago in Azua, that number was still zero. When he was working on his family’s 75-acre farm, growing various vegetables and fruits, including cantaloupes, bananas and corn, that number could still be counted on one hand. And after earning his undergraduate degree in agriculture, there were so few courses in the country that he headed north to New York for the next decade.
Díaz worked at Wind Watch Golf & Country Club in Hauppauge and North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, both on golf-heavy Long Island, and earned his turf degree from Rutgers University, fitting a couple winters worth of classes around his course schedule. He had no plans to leave — not after diving into a renovation project as a North Shore assistant, and especially not after he and his wife, Ana, a native Dominican who moved to New York during her childhood, welcomed a son and then a daughter.
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