NAPLES, Fla. — Perhaps it was the piles of concrete washed away by the powerful storm surge that now sit on the side of the road.
Or the massive mounds of debris, mostly downed trees and limbs, some so tall they block the view of the beachfront 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 relivable once again.
Madelene Sagstrom, who owns a home in Orlando and has lived through her share of storms, was overwhelmed when she drove along the beach 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 out here and you don’t realize 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 that starts Thursday. Tiburon sits about four miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 42 miles south of where Hurricane Ian came ashore with 150 mph winds seven weeks ago.
Madelene Sagstrom lines up a putt on the 11th green during the first round of the 2022 LPGA Cognizant Founders Cup in Clifton, New Jersey (Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press)
Tiburon, which has 36 holes, including the Gold Course where this week’s event is being held, received little damage outside of 350-400 trees being uprooted, and some flooding.
After crews worked tirelessly to remove and replant trees and repair the turf, the Gold Course reopened four days after Ian made landfall. Work then started on cleaning up the areas outside of play.
That work assured the LPGA this event would go on as scheduled.
“It was very devastating what happened here and it’s nice to see everything rebuilding and everything getting more back to normal,” said Brooke Henderson, No. 6 in the women’s world golf rankings. “Hopefully we can continue to recover and just grow stronger from all of this.”
Brooke Henderson hits off the 13th tee during the final round of the 2022 ShopRite LPGA Classic in Galloway, New Jersey. (Photo: Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
Henderson was born and raised in Canada but also lives in Naples. Her home survived the storm.
Tiburon general manager Kevin DeDonato was relieved when he saw the impact the storm had on the property. Irma, which hit in September 2017, toppled about 1,000 trees.
“I kind of knew what to expect,” DeDonato said. “The damage we had from Irma … 400 is impactful but it was almost a relief.
“The thing that was so unique about this one was how long it was. It was 12 hours of just hurricane winds. It just felt like it was never going to end.”
The challenge at Tiburon was putting the finishing touches on the course for this week when so much time was dedicated to clean up.
“As you get closer to this time it’s more detail stuff, outside of play, edging cart path and bunkers,” DeDonato said. “After opening the course we spent two weeks cleaning up outside of play. That takes away from us prepping for a lot of the detail stuff.”
Now, all the work is up to the best women golfers in the world to decide their season-ending champion, much to the delight – and relief – of LPGA tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux.
After Marcoux received assurance the course pulled through the storm, she started working on how to help out any partners and others in the area that were impacted.
Ian caused about $40 billion in property damage in Florida, about $2 billion of that was in Collier County.
“We were really looking to see if there were ways to see if we could help this specific area,” said Marcoux, who lives in Orlando. “And will continue to support those efforts.”
The tour made a donation to the red cross and with each purchase of a limited-edition CME Group or LPGA-Florida T-shirt, $10 will be donated to the Collier Relief Fund.
For the golfers, part of the joy will be seeing those whose lives were upended two months ago enjoying a couple of normal days on a golf course.
“It’s sad to think about the people who have been displaced,” said Ally Ewing. “Hopefully we can provide a sense of happiness for them for a few days.”
Sagstrom, a Swede, believes this weekend is a snapshot of how sports can help heal in times of adversity.
“Coming back to some kind of normalcy, getting the community back together and going to watch some golf, I think people will like that,” she said. “I know people lost a lot. But it’s kind of what sports did during COVID, brought everyone together. That’s what we’re hoping.”