Hong Kong Open turns 60 despite Typhoon Mangkhut destruction – relive the historic event’s great moments and characters
- Some of golf’s greats have graced Fanling since 1959 during a tournament that has captured the hearts of players the world over
The Hong Kong Open’s longevity sees it nestled in the record books alongside the Masters at Augusta National, but the lead-up to this year’s 60th anniversary celebrations has not been plain sailing, with Typhoon Mangkhut leaving Fanling in disarray in September.
“It’s been one of the most challenging years in terms of preparation for the tournament that we’ve ever had in its 60-year history,” said Ian Gardner, the Hong Kong Golf Club’s general manager. “But the course is in great nick and a lot of hard work has gone into getting it ready.”
Even Hong Kong’s biggest storm on record and its trail of destruction could not stop one of the world’s most respected tournaments, which begins on Thursday and along with the Masters is the only professional event to have been held at the same venue every year for more than half a century.
Many of the world’s best have graced the Fanling fairways, with the honour roll including a host of major winners, from Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Tom Watson to Jose Maria Olazabal, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy.
A Welshman named Kim Hall was the catalyst behind the formation of the Open in 1959, with the South China Morning Post putting up £1,000 as prize money.
“The Philippine Open had been played since the 1920s and Kim Hall had the idea that maybe he could get the players that were playing in the Philippine Open to come out and visit Hong Kong, mainly the Australian professionals,” said Gardner.
“He was working then for the Post and put a proposition to the chief editor asking if they would put up the money.”
One man who knows more than most about the Hong Kong Open is Cheng Kee-hung, who caddied at the Hong Kong Golf Club in 1968 and was one of the territory’s first professionals.
He twice played in the Open after turning professional in 1975, has worked in the club shop at Fanling and still to this day is a coach at the club.
He remembers watching the great Thomson and US Open winner Orville Moody – who won in Hong Kong in 1971 – and has witnessed the Open evolve before his eyes.
“We have so many spectators nowadays and so many overseas players from all over the world – before it was mostly from Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and Korea,” he said. “That’s the big difference. The atmosphere is better and there are more people watching.”
Cheng also remembers Taiwan’s Lu Liang-huan – famously known as Mr Lu – who won the first Hong Kong Open in 1959, beating the likes of Australia’s Frank Phillips.
Phillips went on to win in 1966 and 1973, getting one back on Mr Lu with a one-shot win in 1973.
“My fondest memory is 1973 because I had to make a birdie to win and with a five iron I put my second shot about 20 feet from the hole,” said Phillips.
“I have very fond memories because I had good success up there. I’m proud that I was one of the first ones to play. The friendship at the club was great.
“The greens were not the best in the world back then, but I used to have a theory that if I was missing putts, then everyone else was too.”
While the Taiwanese and Australians had a mortgage on the title in the early years, the last two decades have seen the honour roll take on a distinctly Spanish flavour.
Miguel Angel Jimenez is one of two four-time winners, along with Taiwan’s Hsieh Min-nan, and the 54-year-old is back in 2018 to chase a fifth title.
“I play a lot of golf around the world and the fact that I am so happy to come to Hong Kong in November after such a long year shows how strongly I feel about this tournament,” he said.
“For many years, I have had a great chemistry with the spectators. They are real golf fans, very respectful and I get a great feeling playing in front of them.
“When I come off the course I love to sit on the clubhouse terrace, smoking a cigar and feeling close to the people.”
But while players rave about the Open, it has had its challenges.
“The last four years the tournament has really gone from strength to strength, but prior to that we had a couple of years in 2013 and 2014 where we didn’t have a title sponsor and the club footed the bill,” said Gardner.
“There was a feeling that maybe the tournament was going to be on the wane and disappearing and then thankfully UBS came back again and we changed a lot of the things we do at the tournament.
“It’s really gone from strength to strength and the proof is in the pudding in terms of the number of spectators who have attended. In 2014, we had 32,000, last year it was over 48,000 and this year we are expecting well over 50,000.”