LPGA tournament in Naples boosts sense of normalcy after Hurricane Ian

NAPLES Maybe it’s the heaps of concrete swept away by the powerful storm surge that now lie by the side of the road.

Or the massive mounds of debris, mostly downed trees and branches, some so high they block the view of the waterfront condos from the street.

Or those towering condos sitting directly on the Gulf of Mexico, still abandoned, residents replaced by construction crews and heavy equipment working to make their homes viable again.

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Madelene Sagstrom, who owns a home in Orlando and has been through her share of storms, was overwhelmed when she drove along the beach on Tuesday and saw the destruction from Hurricane Ian.

“All the destruction,” she said. “It’s just mind blowing how local it can be. You’re here and you don’t achieve anything.”

Sagstrom is part of the 60-woman field for the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club, the final event of the LPGA Tour season which begins Thursday. Tiburon is about four miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 42 miles south of where Hurricane Ian landed with 150 mph winds seven weeks ago.

Tiburon, which has 36 holes including the Gold Course where this week’s event takes place, suffered little damage apart from 350 to 400 uprooted trees and some flooding.

After crews worked tirelessly removing and replanting trees and repairing grass, the Gold Course reopened four days after Ian landed. Work then began to clean up areas outside the game.

This work assured the LPGA that this event would go ahead as planned.

“What happened here was very devastating and it’s nice to see it all rebuilding and getting back to normal,” said Brooke Henderson, No. 6 in the Women’s World Golf Rankings. “Hopefully we can continue to recover and grow stronger through all of this.”

Henderson was born and raised in Canada, but also lives in Naples. His house survived the storm.

Tiburon General Manager Kevin DeDonato was relieved when he saw the storm’s impact on the property. Irma, which struck in September 2017, toppled around 1,000 trees.

“I knew what to expect,” DeDonato said. “The damage we took from Irma…400 is impactful but it was almost a relief.

“What was so unique about this one was how long it was. It was 12 hours of hurricane winds. It felt like it was never going to end.”

The challenge in Tiburon was to put the finishing touches to the course of this week where so much time was spent cleaning.

“As you get closer to that moment, there’s more detail, outside of the game, of the cart paths and the bunkers,” DeDonato said. “After the course opened, we spent two weeks cleaning up outside the game. It saves us having to prepare for a lot of detail.”

Now it’s all up to the world’s best female golfers to decide their end-of-season champion, much to the delight – and relief – of LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux.

After Marcoux was assured that the course had weathered the storm, she began working on how to help partners and others in the area who were affected.

Ian caused approximately $40 billion in property damage in Florida, including approximately $2 billion in Collier County.

“We were really looking to see if there were ways to see if we could help that specific area,” said Marcoux, who lives in Orlando. “And will continue to support these efforts.”

The tour donated to the Red Cross and for every purchase of a limited edition CME Group or LPGA-Florida t-shirt, $10 will be donated to the Collier Relief Fund.

For golfers, part of the joy will be seeing those whose lives were turned upside down two months ago enjoying a few normal days on a golf course.

“It’s sad to think of the people who have been displaced,” Ally Ewing said. “I hope we can give them a sense of happiness for a few days.”

Sagstrom, a Swede, thinks this weekend is a glimpse into how sport can help heal in times of adversity.

“Getting back to some kind of normality, bringing the community together and going to watch some golf, I think people will like that,” she said. “I know people have lost a lot. But that’s kind of what sport has done during COVID, brought everyone together. That’s what we’re hoping for.”