Ironwood Strong: Getting Creative with Storm Debris

Ironwood Golf Course Log Pile

When a tornado and a straight-line wind event hit Ironwood Golf Course in Byron Center, MI, within one year of each other, the course faced a major dilemma: What to do with all of the tree debris? With some creative thinking, the course not only benefitted from the downed trees but was also able to re-purpose some of them into lasting treasures.

It was late August 2016 when an F-0 tornado touched down on Ironwood, a. A family-owned, 18-hole public course set in the suburbs of Grand Rapids, MI. “Within a half an hour our world was turned upside down,” said Kim Davidson, course horticulturist, and daughter of course owners, David and Joy Bradley. “We had been hit hard by winds from a previous storm in 1998, but that was nothing compared to this.” Trees were snapped off and uprooted everywhere throughout Ironwood’s 80 acres. The course’s main buildings were spared, but the damage to the grounds was devastating. “This was like nothing we had ever experienced before. We were totally overwhelmed,” explained Davidson.

After a constructive meeting with the insurance-adjuster, a plan of action was put into motion. “We were told that everything would be alright and that we needed to take our time with the clean-up, be smart and “get creative” with how we handled things,” said David Bradley, owner, and superintendent. The course closed for the rest of the season and a request for bids from tree service companies was put out. A phone call was also made by Davidson to a local forest product/sawmill company. Many of the trees that came down were native Michigan species. Davidson knew that there was potential with the “timber” at hand and that it could possibly be salvaged for other uses. A forester from the company came out and evaluated everything. With instructions in place on how to properly cut the logs to lengths for processing, Ironwood was able to turn its lemons into lemonade. Logs were cut and hauled up to a makeshift lumber stockyard set up in Ironwood’s overflow gravel parking lot. “We filled 3 ½ log trucks full of salvaged timber that went directly to the company,” said Davidson. That equated to funds being made from the situation at hand.

Other “creative” methods were also implemented during the clean-up that generated monetary savings. The tree company that was hired used firewood to heat one of their maintenance buildings. They worked that into their bid and didn’t charge Ironwood for hauling that wood away. It was a win-win situation for both businesses.

The smaller brush that wasn’t salvageable for lumber or firewood was chipped up into mulch that was either later used for the course’s landscaping, taken to a neighboring tree nursery or, as a last resort, blown into piles in adjacent wooded areas where it was left to decompose naturally.

Ironwood had gotten creative with its storm clean up and the course opened the following spring. “We were all so thankful to have made it through the challenge and be back in business,” said Joy Bradley, course owner, and manager. But just when things seemed to be returning to normal Ironwood was struck once again by Mother Nature. A straight-line wind event hit the course hard that July. “It was like we were re-living the August 2016 storm all over again. Trees that had become stressed from the previous storm came down and once again there was a huge mess to be cleaned up,” said Davidson.

The experience was on their side this time around, though. A call was immediately placed with the tree company that helped in the past. “They couldn’t believe we had been hit again when we called. We had a good repertoire with them and knew they would work fairly with us through this mess, too,” explained Joy Bradley. The same clean-up plan that was used in the past was put into place and the course was able to re-open within a week.

Of all the interesting ways Ironwood came up with to deal with the storm debris, the one that did not necessarily generate the most monetary savings or value, but the most lasting impression came from owner and superintendent, Bradley himself. He dabbled in woodworking and occasionally got lumber milled from trees that had either come down or he had taken down at Ironwood in the past. With so much salvageable timber at hand from the 2016 tornado, Bradley realized he had prime picking rights to some wonderful woodworking opportunities.

He saved some of the best logs for himself in his own personal stockpile. Logs of prime Michigan lumber including Black Cherry, Shagbark Hickory, Hard Maple, and others were milled by a mobile sawmill. Bradley then stacked and stored the boards for future use and when he was ready to use them for a project, planed them himself outside his home woodshop.

Ironwood Golf Course dog Max

Ironwood Golf Course dog Max

What were once trees gracing the grounds at Ironwood have now become special treasures for family and friends. Cutting boards, serving trays, photo frames, tables, and a fireplace mantel have all been painstakingly crafted by Bradley during the winter off- time in his shop. A special memorial tribute for the family’s beloved dog, Max, — who was also Ironwood’s official greeter–, was carved out of a prime black cherry board with the use of a fellow woodworker’s CNC machine. “It’s something I enjoy doing. I like the challenge and seeing the beauty that comes out of the different wood species,” replied said, Bradley.

With the 2016 tornado and straight-line wind event of 2017 behind them, Ironwood continues to be a local favorite among golfers in the West Michigan area. “It was a challenging year for all of us, professionally and personally. There was a huge learning curve involved. We are better prepared, plan and equipment-wise, to handle things when weather challenges arise now. We like to think we are “Ironwood Strong,” but you never know what good old Mother Nature has in store for you. You just have to do your best to be prepared, especially when you are in this type of weather-dependent business,” said Davidson.

*Kimberly J. Davidson is the horticulturist at Ironwood Golf Course in Byron Center, MI, and a Michigan certified green industry professional. Follow Ironwood Golf Course at

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