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Honma Hong Kong Open

Hong Kong Open: Typhoon Mangkhut took more than 1,000 trees from Fanling and filled 700 dump trucks with debris

  • Randy Witt details the work needed to clean up in time for Hong Kong Open
  • Witt estimates it will be well into 2019 before they’re 100 per cent cleaned up
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 6:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 6:00am

Hong Kong Golf Club courses manager Randy Witt said the damage done to the grounds out at Fanling by Typhoon Mangkhut were so extensive, at one point he had some of the golf pros in running chainsaws.

“We had fifteen chainsaws going at one point,” said Witt, who has been at his position with the club for 14 years. “And two mechanics doing nothing but fixing chainsaws all day to keep them running. It was quite the sight to see at one point.”

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Typhoon Mangkhut, which ripped through Hong Kong on September 16, devastated the city’s most prestigious golf club and the host of the annual Hong Kong Open, which kicked off on Tuesday.

Witt estimates more than 1,000 trees were damaged or downed, and during the clean-up his crew filled 700 dump trucks of debris that had to be taken off site. They also had to uproot 125 large tree stumps, which required the use of a crane to pull them out of the ground.

Luckily there wasn’t a lot of rain after the typhoon dissipated, which meant Witt and his crew could bring out heavy vehicles on to the grass without damaging the grounds.

The Hong Kong government estimates 46,000 trees were felled overall, most of which had to be trucked out to various landfills. The total damage of Typhoon Mangkhut, which hit signal 10 and is the city’s most intense storm on record, could end up costing is more than US$1 billion according to one economic assessor.

Witt said they do not have a dollar figure for the damage at Fanling, but he said the clean-up took thousands of man hours from his 85 staff members which all started with the crew having to physically get into their maintenance facility.

“We had two large trees go down right outside the shop, so we had to get them out of the way before anything could start.”

Most of the trees felled in Hong Kong by Typhoon Mangkhut to go straight to landfill

After that he said priority number one was clearing the cart paths so they could move around the courses. The Hong Kong Golf Club encompasses three courses at its Fanling location (Old, New and Eden) spread over 170 hectares on Fam Kam Road.

For about four weeks Witt said they had two dump sites going all day, every day, trying to clear off all the debris. One of the big worries was what is known as “widow makers”, damaged trees that fall on to other trees but stay partially erect.

“If you do not clean those up correctly, they can be very dangerous.”

Hong Kong’s climate creates trees with shallow root systems, said Witt. This is because with so much precipitation, the trees’ roots do not have to reach far underground looking for water. However they are less stable and more susceptible to keeling over in bad weather.

“When you have wet grounds, a shallow root system and high winds, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Right now Witt said they have about 90 per cent of the damage cleaned up, however there is still a lot of work to do on some of the course grounds’ wooded areas, which are off limits to spectators during the Hong Kong Open.

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The only prep work they did before the typhoon was move some potted plants inside along with landscaping equipment, and of course, pull the flags from all the tees. Other than that, Witt said, it’s “all Mother Nature out there”.

Post-clean up he said they’ve installed a system to lower the driving range nets when the next storm comes through as the mesh turned the structures into sails during the high winds.

Witt said through it all, he never lost his cool and more importantly, none of his staff members got hurt during the restoration process.

“I’ve been in this business long enough that I’ve learned the only thing you do when you worry is give yourself ulcers,” he said.

“You cannot fight Mother Nature, you have to learn to work with her and deal with her.”