Texans at the Myrtle Beach World Am worry what awaits them as the tournament ends

World Am Houston residents talk Harvey

Houston area residents Lonnie Brauner and Brent Klepper discuss playing in the 34th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship while Hurricane Harvey blew through their neighborhoods.
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Houston area residents Lonnie Brauner and Brent Klepper discuss playing in the 34th Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship while Hurricane Harvey blew through their neighborhoods.

As he has for the past 29 years, Rick Kimbrell will head back home this weekend after playing in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship.

Only this year is different – very different.

His flight is scheduled for Saturday, though he’s not positive there is going to be a flight. He doesn’t believe his truck parked at the airport will be operational and may not even be salvageable, and he’s not entirely sure what damage awaits when he returns to his home.

Kimbrell is from Weston Lakes, Texas, which is about 40 miles west of downtown Houston.

Kimbrell is among about 50 players from Southeast Texas in this year’s World Am that will be dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey after the tournament comes to an end Friday, including 17 that list Houston as their hometown.

“It’s been pretty devastating,” Kimbrell said. “We don’t know what kind of mess we’re going to find. It’s ugly, but we’ll deal with it.”

World Am participants from ravaged areas have been able to avoid the devastation for the time being, but it has hardly been an enjoyable week on the links for many of them.

Isabel Pena of the Houston area plays in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship at Founders Club on Thursday . Keith Alan Jacobs

“You have so much guilt because you’re here. It’s that feeling that you’re here and they’re there, and you’re not there. It’s a horrible feeling,” said Karen Chamberlain of Seabrook, Texas, near Houston. “People think, ‘Oh, you’re just having fun playing golf.’ But that’s not how we feel. We have unreal guilt, we’ve have tears and tears and tears. It’s been really hard.”

“We would all fly home in a minute if we thought we could do anything, but we can’t even get to our houses. We can’t even fly home. We hope we get to fly home Saturday.”

There are several individuals and groups from southeast Texas entered in the tournament, each with their own ordeal to manage.

One man’s island

Kimbrell, a 30-year World Am participant, flew to Myrtle Beach from Houston Hobby Airport on Thursday. “I still don’t know if I can get home,” he said.

He hopes to get an Uber ride when he returns to the Houston area, which he plans to do Saturday. “My vehicle is in Hobby Airport in a surface parking lot, and everything around Hobby is under water so I hear my truck is under water,” Kimbrell said.

Many in Houston thought they had seen the worst of the possible flooding in April 2016 during the Tax Day Floods, when as much as 17 inches of rain over two days led to eight deaths and more than 700 homes and apartments flooded.

Kimbrell’s home is in the Brazos River basin, and the Brazos river has flooded for the past two years in the spring. Last year, he said a nearby golf course was under water for several weeks, lost a clubhouse and had holes washed away.

Kimbrell said water has come within a few inches of entering his home. The river hadn’t yet breached its banks as of Wednesday night, but it wasn’t expected to crest and possibly flood until Friday.

Kimbrell said he lives on an island surrounded by a man-made lake that feeds off the river, where there are 85 homes. There are about 1,500 homes in his subdivision, and he said 20 were inundated with water as of Wednesday.

“The only in and out of the subdivision itself is either in an oversized vehicle like an 18-wheeler or some kind of boat,” Kimbrell said. “There is no regular car traffic in or out. It’s completely blocked off.”

His wife has been at home, watching as the river has nearly overflowed. “It’s spooky,” Kimbrell said. “We’ve been without power several times this week. A tree in our yard is just about to hit my neighbor’s house and we can’t get anybody in to do anything about it. But we’re doing a lot better than a lot of other people are. As long as my house is not under water we’re going to ride it out.”

Kimbrell left Houston on Thursday because he runs a couple pre-tournament skins games on the weekend and had already collected several thousand dollars from participants. “If I didn’t show I felt I was going to get lynched, so I felt I had to come,” Kimbrell said. “After the weekend I thought about trying to go back home, but I couldn’t get back if I wanted to.”

A picture from the home of Teresa Todaro in the Houston area, taken by her husband this week while Todaro was in Myrtle Beach playing in the Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship. Todaro’s home was raised 14 feet in recent years to avoid possible flood waters, but not all homes in her neighborhood have been raised yet and were severely flooded. Todaro family submitted photo

Like many World Am players from Houston, Kimbrell didn’t expect the storm, which made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane with winds of 130 mph around Corpus Christi – which is 200 miles south of Houston – to impact their area nearly as hard as it has.

“I knew we’d get a lot of rain, but never thought it would ever get to where we are now,” he said.

Kimbrell, 71, has three adult children living north of Houston and none of their houses have been flooded.

“We have a neighborhood bulletin board and I get up in the middle of the night and read it,” he said. “I’m reading about air boats coming into the neighborhood. I’m reading about tractor trailers coming in and taking people out who want to leave. The neighborhood next to us has a lot of houses under water.”

Kimbrell is the vice president of IT for National Dilwell Varco, a provider of equipment and components used in oil and gas drilling and production, and oversees 21 workers. Six of those have had to evacuate their homes because of flooding and one had to be airlifted from the roof of his home.

Women of Houston

A group of 11 women from the ladies golf league of the South Shore Harbour Country Club in League City, Texas, is making its fourth trip to the World Am this year and is staying in an eight-bedroom house in North Myrtle Beach.

They arrived Friday after their airline offered to move their flights up a day because of the approaching storm.

Karen Chamberlain’s daughter-in-law, three grandchildren and two family dogs had to be rescued Monday from their home by boat in Dickinson, Texas, and brought to a makeshift shelter in a bank. “There was just so much water coming into the house so fast, it just kept coming and coming and coming so they had to get out,” Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain’s son works at Marathon Oil Corp. and was trapped at his job by flood waters for a couple days, so he couldn’t get to his family. A friend managed to brave flood waters in a large truck to reach them at the bank and brought the family to his house, which wasn’t flooded.

“I also know if I was at my house, because I live 20 minutes from them, that there was nothing I could have done,” Chamberlain said. “I wouldn’t have been able to leave my neighborhood. Both entrances to my neighborhood were flooded.”

Chamberlain’s husband is an emergency room doctor who was also trapped at his hospital. “It’s been crazy for all of us. It’s been a nightmare,” Chamberlain said. “But there’s nothing anybody can do.”

Because of heavy flooding from Hurricane Ike in 2008, many homes in Teresa Todaro’s Houston area neighborhood have been lifted several feet off the ground. Her house was raised 14 feet, and though her property was heavily flooded, the water never reached the living quarters.

“My husband stayed there with the gates open and the garage door open so the water could flow through it,” Todaro said. “He would go down and funnel debris out of it to flow through our gates because basically we just had a river running through there.”

But not all neighborhood homes have been lifted yet, and the ones that aren’t sustained heavy flooding as water rushed through the streets.

“We had so many people getting ready to lift their homes, but they were in the second phase of lifting and didn’t have it,” Todaro said. “All of our one-story homes are under water.”

Todaro said cars were able to get back on roads Wednesday, and the ladies are hoping to return Saturday.

“Give us a couple more days, we’ll all be home and we’ll all pitch in and then we won’t have to feel so guilty of course, once we get home and really help out and be able to do the stuff we need to do,” Chamberlain said.

The group is supposed to be 12 strong. But Sammie O’Donohoe owns a hair salon and was scheduled to leave Sunday because of appointments Friday and Saturday. She never had a chance to leave, and “not one customer canceled,” O’Donohoe said. “Women are crazy. They have to look good for the storm.”

O’Donohoe said her area near the NASA Johnson Space Center area received 43 inches of rain that finally subsided Tuesday. “It rained four straight days without stopping. Pouring down rain,” O’Donohoe said.

O’Donohoe’s home did not get flooded. A huge retention pond was recently dug near her home that was previously two holes of a closed golf course. She said it’s about 30 feet deep and the water reached the top of the banks. “We could go water skiing in it if we had a boat,” O’Donohoe said.

Victorian tale

Victoria, Texas, is about 130 miles south of Houston and was hit with heavy winds and flooding shortly after Harvey made landfall.

Resident Isabel Pena, 52, her husband Sal Perez and three friends had flights to Myrtle Beach scheduled from San Antonio on Saturday morning.

They left Thursday and drove to Myrtle Beach because they were afraid their Saturday morning flight from San Antonio would be canceled, and Southwest Airline reimbursed their money.

“We were pretty lucky we were able to get out,” Pena said. “We had it in our minds we wanted to come and play and we figured we might as well take the opportunity to get away from the storm and stick with our plans. We didn’t think it was going to be that bad. We were very shocked.”

Some of their family members in Victoria including Pena’s brothers and sisters were without power as of Wednesday, and running water had been shut off for a couple days.

“I think we’re pretty much happy that we’re here,” Pena said. “It makes it kind of hard to be somewhere without electricity and water. I’ve been through that situation before after Hurricane Claudette (in 2003) … where for like two weeks I didn’t have electricity. So I’m glad that I’m not there.

“But at the same time we felt guilty that we left and didn’t stay. So it was a little bit of mixed feelings for us. Most of our families stayed behind and they’re the ones that are struggling with not having electricity and stuff like that, and we’re over here enjoying electricity and water.”

Pena said her relatives have had to boil water before it can be consumed, and some are using generators, gas grills, etc., and using cars to charge cell phones.

Pena’s group is planning to begin its drive back to Victoria on Saturday, though they’ll monitor conditions to see if they’ll be able to get to their homes.

“We’re hoping all the flooding will come down before we decide to go back,” Pena said. “We’re a little concerned about how we’re going to get back.”

Accepting donations

With so many players from Southeast Texas, marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which operates the World Am, is one of the many organizations collecting donations to assist with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

It has set up a page with donations going to the American Red Cross to specifically aid families impacted by Harvey. Donations through the Myrtle Beach World Amateur page can be made at The campaign has a stated goal of $5,000 and Golf Holiday started the process with a $1,000 donation.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin