13 Sep 2022 | Clubs and Facilities |

#ThankASuper Day: Carbrook’s colossal recovery effort

by Dane Heverin

The flood damage at Carbrook Golf Club south of Brisbane.
The flood damage at Carbrook Golf Club south of Brisbane.

Not once, but twice this year course superintendent Brett Thomson and his team at Carbrook Golf Club in Queensland have salvaged their course.

Ravaged by flood waters in late February and then again in May, a herculean effort was required to have golfers back out on course after it was closed for 55 days.

The club, which is well-known for housing bull sharks after they became trapped in the course’s lake during the flood of 1996, appeared as if it would be out of action for a very long time when the banks of the Logan and Albert Rivers burst, but their team was not going to allow that to happen.

“There’s nothing really to be complaining about now,” Thomson said with a laugh. 

“In my eyes everyone’s lucky to be playing on a golf course that’s come up way above expectations.”

Thomson began his journey at Carbrook in July 2005 as assistant superintendent before stepping up to the superintendent role only six months later, and his experience held him in good stead when disaster struck.

Facing floods in 2013 and 2017 meant he knew exactly what was required, although he did not anticipate how quickly his crew could turn the course around.

“I probably exceeded my own expectations,” he said. 

“Four months down the track I wouldn’t have thought that we would get to this point we’re at now. It’s hard to imagine that we got there so fast. Having a really good plan and having the volunteers to help out helped pick things off day by day and week by week.”

The planning process kicked into gear immediately with Thomson wasting no time in wrapping his head around the work that needed to be done.

“When I first saw it I thought ‘okay, what am I going to do first? Wait for the water to recede so we can assess the situation’,” he recalled. 

“I was already planning before the water receded. I was like ‘we’re going to get out to the shed at the highest greens because that is going to be the most accessible area for us’. The further you went out, the worse it got.

“A lot of people got really overwhelmed by it. A few of them had never experienced it before. I’ve been through flooding and that experience was better for my leadership. 

“A couple of other guys had been through that with me and they knew there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel whether it was a month or two or three or however long.”

Thomson’s guidance of his team was a defining feature of the recovery effort with Carbrook’s general manager Scott Wagstaff full of praise for his colleague of more than a decade.

“Watching him maintain a positive attitude was unbelievable,” Wagstaff said. 

“He got himself through it by seeing the golf course as if it was in construction. He treated it as we were in a construction phase and we were getting the place together. He was the one that kept everyone up beat and going. 

“It was impressive that he was able to take himself out of it and have that different perspective, and also to get into a mindset where he could function and lead.”

In addition to his usual crew, Thomson took charge of a legion of volunteers.

The staff utilised their regular time sheets to lock in volunteers to four hours shifts to assist the turf management team, while some members found other ways to lend a hand.

“The members knew we were putting in and that’s what helped them turn up every day too,” Thomson said. 

“They really gave a great appreciation for what we did. There were some people who would turn up with a high pressure cleaner and wash down all the buggies and the shed. We didn’t have to focus on cleaning up that part of it which was great.

“They had to clean the driveway of the silt and they got a firetruck down to blast it off so you didn’t get it all over the wheels when you drove backwards and forwards. Scott knew someone that knew someone and they offered to bring a fire hose down to blast it and we were like ‘yeah okay, bring it down’. 

“We didn’t knock anyone back, if they had an idea we were happy to try it.”

Another member handed them a truck for a week as they were struggling to hire vehicles due to the region being swept with recovery works and soon enough they saw the fruits of their labour.

One green came up, then another and another, and within a few weeks Carbrook was resembling a golf course again.

Now, golfers are back playing, but the silt that still lies on parts of the course serves as a reminder that the flooding occurred not too long ago.

There are more challenges ahead with a La Niña event expected to bring large rainfall for a third straight summer, although Wagstaff could not be prouder of the way the team manages adversity.

“We’ve got a pretty awesome team,” he said. “You get through a crisis together and you’re a lot stronger. We had each other’s back at a pretty difficult time.”

Thomson, meanwhile, loves the fact that they never stopped believing.

“The whole team didn't waver or go into a lull,” he said. 

“That was probably the most pleasing thing because we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and said ‘we’re going to get there’.”

“Thank a Golf Course Superintendent Day” 2022 will be celebrated on Tuesday 13 September and the international community is asking clubs, members and guests to celebrate the day and thank their turf management teams with support on social media using #ThankASuper. During the 2021 International Thank a Superintendent Day, social media messages reached more than nine million followers around the world.

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