To the defeated souls in the Gulf Coast region, it must feel as if life is over. Every moment is probably like a hellfire growing worse by the second. I know what Katrina's victims feel like because I survived Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm that swept through Charleston on Sept. 21, 1989. But I'm hopeful, because no matter how bleak it looks in New Orleans and elsewhere in that storm-ravaged area, there will definitely be better days ahead.
Back in '89 trees smashed through my house, and Wild Dunes, the resort where I was the director of golf, was destroyed. All of the 10,000 trees at Wild Dunes--which is on the tip of Isle of Palms, a barrier island outside Charleston--were snapped like matchsticks. The bunkers looked as if somebody had blown them up with hand grenades. A couple of holes were sucked into the Atlantic. Our 80 golf carts were crushed like accordions, and the course was buried in debris that included seaweed, rooftops, boats, cars, dishwashers and snakes.
The hardest thing about starting over was staring at the destruction and beating back the feeling of hopelessness. To the people in the Gulf Coast, the wasteland must look as if it'll take years--if not forever--to rebuild, but it won't be so long.
Wild Dunes laid off all but 100 of its 600 employees, and most of our equipment had either been destroyed by the storm surge or commandeered by the National Guard. Those of us lucky enough to remain on the payroll started by removing one branch and shoveling one scoop of dirt at a time. We wondered every day whether the developer would tell us to go home for good because he had decided to sell the property. We worked from dawn to dusk, and when we finally made it home each evening, we then had to spend all night cleaning our own houses. My mind is still haunted by the echo of chain saws and generators.
Once people at courses in the Gulf Coast begin rebuilding, they'll be buoyed by some positive developments that now are unimaginable. First, the golf industry will support them in wonderful ways, donating money and goods. But the best by-product, I think, will be the camaraderie, energy and inspiration folks down there will soon begin to experience. No way am I glad that Hugo happened, but it did have a hidden blessing. When Wild Dunes reopened a year after the hurricane, our staff, our members and the area residents were a much tighter and more energized family, and we had a whole new level of gratitude for even the smallest things.
Terry Florence is now the director of golf at Bulls Bay Golf Club in Awendaw, S.C.
Donate to the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Gulf Coast Community Sports Relief Fund at www.communityseason.com/si-nrpa-katrina
Golf Plus will next appear in the Oct. 3 SI