Golf courses not immune to sinkholes

By |  April 11, 2013

The initial hole the golfer created when he collapsed the underground void.


The secured area, immediately after the fall.


Beginning excavation and “collapsing the void.” The maintenance team had to do this because onlookers kept pushing the fence down to get a closer look.


The backhoe digs as far down as it can–16 ft., not 18 ft., as reported.


Filling the hole with riprap. They used an estimated 100 tons of it.


The area will be graded Friday and ready for sod on Monday.

Just got off the phone with John Soetaert, CGCS at Annbriar Golf Course in Waterloo, Ill. The course made national headlines after a golfer was swallowed by a sinkhole on the 14th fairway Friday, March 8, suffering a dislocated shoulder and bruises. The sinkhole was 10 feet across, marveled Soetaert, who was at the barbershop with his kids Friday afternoon when he got the call to return to work.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was unbelievable!” he said of getting the call. He rushed to the course and sprung into action, fencing off the sinkhole.

“It looks like he just fell through the earth,” Soetaert said. “I crawled up to the hole. It looked like a Hershey’s Kiss under the ground, a bell-shaped void.” The sinkhole is smack in the middle of the fairway, so there’s really only one worse place it could be—on a putting green, Soetaert said.

The course has other sinkholes but none so drastic as this one. It’s too early to estimate how long it will take to excavate and repair it, but Soetaert’s hoping repairs won’t take longer than a couple weeks. Since he and his grounds crew are fully occupied with the sinkhole, Soetaert had to call in reinforcements to help with pre-emergents and day-to-day maintenance.

But he’s just happy the golfer wasn’t injured more than he was. “I’ve been working on a golf course since 1986 and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.

For more of our interview with Soetaert, check out Golfdom’s April issue.

A mighty huge thanks to Soetaert for sending us these shots of the sinkhole at Annbriar Golf Course. It’s not like he’s got much spare time these days, you know?Check out the immense progress he and his crew have made in repairing the sinkhole—all this in less than a week! Forthe record, they’ll be ready to sod on Monday, March 18. Tell us if this isn’t impressive. Thanks so much for sending them our way, John! We owe you a beer.

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About the Author: Seth Jones

Seth Jones, a 25-year veteran of the golf industry media, is Editor-in-Chief of Golfdom magazine and Athletic Turf. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Jones began working for Golf Course Management in 1999 as an intern. In his professional career he has won numerous awards, including a Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA) first place general feature writing award for his profile of World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman and a TOCA first place photography award for his work covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his career, Jones has accumulated an impressive list of interviews, including such names as George H.W. Bush, Samuel L. Jackson, Lance Armstrong and Charles Barkley. Jones has also done in-depth interviews with such golfing luminaries as Norman, Gary Player, Nick Price and Lorena Ochoa, to name only a few. Jones is a member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association. Jones can be reached at

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