Tornadoes tear up Cobram Barooga, Corowa

Course maintenance crews at Cobram Barooga and Corowa golf clubs on the Murray River have spent much of the past week cleaning up their courses after a series of tornadoes cut a destructive path along the Murray River last Thursday evening. (Click here to view YouTube footage of the tornado near Mulwala - please note this video contains some coarse language).

Cobram Barooga course superintendent and AGCSA member Tony Johnston had just returned home from work when three tornadoes touched down on the NSW side of the river at about 7pm. Winds in excess of 200kph battered Cobram Barooga’s heavily tree-lined Old Course, with Johnstone estimating more than 250 mature trees, including river red gums and pine trees, were left shredded, snapped in half or totally uprooted.

“It was all over in a matter of about five minutes, but we’ll be cleaning up after this for the next two months,” Johnston told The Cut. “Holes 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 13 and 18 on the Old Course were the hardest hit and in some parts there are no trees left. The West Course only suffered some minor damage. The motel across the road lost part of its roof and I was half expecting to come into work and find our very old maintenance shed blown to pieces, but not one bit of tin was missing from it!”

A series of tornadoes caused extensive damage to Cobram Barooga Golf Club's Old Course last Thursday evening

Since dawn last Friday the clean-up operation has been underway in order to get the Old Course back into play ahead of the Easter long weekend, traditionally one of the club’s busier periods. To assist Johnston and his crew with the arduous task, colleagues from nearby Tocumwal and Yarrawonga Mulwala golf clubs, including respective course superintendents Matt McLeod and Chris Burgess, came across last Friday and spent much of the day operating chainsaws and debris blowers.

Tocumwal-based excavating and earthworks contractor Crawford Earth Works lent excavators and bobcats which were used to push piles of debris to the side of fairways, while Cobram Barooga members have also been out in force with 30-40 turning up each day to assist where possible. Through the combined efforts of all, the Old Course was back open fully in time for the club’s Easter tournament.

With the assistance of member volunteers and help from nearby golf clubs, Cobram Barooga was able to have the course back open in time for the Easter long weekend

Although fortunately missing the likes of Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club (superintendent Chris Burgess) and Black Bull Golf Club (course superintendent Matthew Robilliard) in Yarrawonga as it headed east, the extreme weather also left a trail of destruction at Corowa Golf Club, some 80km upstream of Cobram Barooga.

Course superintendent and AGCSA member Darren Harvey was tracking the storm on the radar from his home just a minute away from the course and knew they were in for a battering. It wasn’t until he got to the course the following morning that he realised just how destructive the winds had been. Most of the damage was restricted to the top nine holes of the 27-hole complex, with the tornado cutting a path through holes 7, 6, 5, 2, 1 and 9 before crossing the river and hitting Rutherglen a short time later.

“My wife was on Facebook when a friend up at Cobram posted that the tornadoes had hit,” Harvey told The Cut. “I was tracking the storm as it headed across and you could tell by the purple spots that it wasn’t good. When I arrived at the course the next day there was a heap of damage to the top nine; there was even a rainwater tank in the fairway bunker on the 7th hole which had come across from a neighbouring property. I held grave fears for the bottom 18 holes which are on the river flats and have huge mature gums, but fortunately they were okay.”

Harvey estimates that around 120 trees suffered damage, with the tops ripped out of most of them along with damage to many shrubs. Through the efforts of Harvey’s crew and a couple of member working bees on Monday and Tuesday, all debris was cleared off fairways and the club’s traditional Easter tournament will go ahead as planned.

While there was a fair bit of damage on course, the most disruption at Corowa came in the clubhouse. Although escaping damage, a lightning strike caused a power outage which forced the clubhouse to shut its doors at 8.30pm on what was its busiest night of the week. The storm also brought with it 44mm of rain, a timely albeit extreme drop considering the course had recorded just 13mm for the year up to that point.

“We didn’t get hit as bad as Tony up at Cobram, but it’s certainly the worst damage I’ve seen here,” said Harvey. “I’ve seen drought, floods, locust plagues, financial issues (on more than a couple of occasions) and now tornadoes! Makes you wonder what will happen next!”

Some of the damage sustained at Corowa Golf Club
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