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Tornado strikes Allianz course

The buzzing of chain saws replaced the thwack of clubs hitting golf balls on the rolling grounds of the Glen Oaks Country Club.

It should have been a carefree, fun-filled day leading up to the inaugural Allianz Championship for PGA seniors. Instead, it turned into a scramble for cover as rain and lightning, then what some witnesses described as a funnel cloud, tore through the course.

The storm hit during the pro-am competition Thursday and dealt a disheartening blow to an event that was highly anticipated after the nearby Des Moines Golf and Country Club drew large crowds for the U.S. Senior Open two years ago.

``We had hoped to put on a great show,'' tournament director Hollis Cavner said. ``This is hard.''

Cavner had workers on the course cleaning up within minutes of the storm's passage and vowed to start on time Friday.

``We have to play,'' he said. ``It's going to be done.''

The storm knocked down six leaderboards, toppled trees, littered the course with tree limbs and blew over a trailer used by a catering company. Roofs on two skyboxes overlooking the 18th green were blown in.

``We had no warning,'' said Bob Van Dyke, who was working security in one of the skyboxes. ``Poof, it hit. There was wind just like that. The braces in the ceiling started giving way and the floor started to buckle. Everybody headed out.''

The golfers had left the course about an hour earlier because of lightning and heavy rain. There were no reports of storm-related injuries.

Although the National Weather Service said it could not confirm there had been a tornado, two paramedics who would not give their names said they saw a funnel cloud cross the 10th fairway.

Ken Babb, watching on a hill just outside the clubhouse, also reported seeing a funnel.

``I saw an updraft starting to rotate and we commented, `Wouldn't it be cool to see a tornado?''' said Babb, an amateur from Overland Park, Kan., who played in the pro-am. ``Then bam, out it dropped.''

Jim Nelson, a volunteer worker, said he was riding in a cart near the 12th hole when he saw the funnel.

``I saw it touch down and bounce up in the air,'' he said. ``As soon as I saw it, I hit the dirt. It went right over the top of four guys. They lost their umbrellas and hats. They hit the dirt, too.''

Cavner said crews would work all night if necessary to get everything ready for the tournament, which attracted a classy field that included the year's top 15 money winners. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson skipped the event, but Arnold Palmer is in it.

Dana Quigley said the golfers were eager to return because of how they were treated at the Senior Open.

``We all had a great experience in '99,'' said Quigley, playing in his 146th straight tournament. ``Everybody's expecting the same type of reception and I think we'll get it.''

About 20,000 fans are expected each of the final two days of the tournament. The '99 Senior Open drew 51,200 on the last day.

The senior tour has had a different winner in each of the last seven tournaments. The favorite this weekend? Who knows?

``If you're going to point to four or five guys and say they are the ones that are going to win, you're apt to be out of luck,'' Allen Doyle said.

Jim Thorpe came in off a dramatic victory in the Kroger Senior Classic near Cincinnati. Thorpe won a playoff with Tom Jenkins after hitting a spectacular 245-yard 3-wood within a foot of the cup on the final hole of regulation and making the putt for an eagle.

``I've made 30 holes in one, but under the circumstances, it was probably the best shot I've ever hit,'' Thorpe said. ``We practice so much and hit thousands and thousands of balls. The difference is the level of pressure there is.''

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