The upside of Hurricane Matthew


No one was injured. That was the best part of Hurricane Matthew as it blew through the Lowcountry in early October.

But the storm did leave a heck of a mess. There wasn’t a square foot anywhere that wasn’t covered with branches, leaves or sea grass. In every direction, a tree was blown over, snapped off or lodged in someone’s roof. In all, 2.5 million cubic yards of debris were hauled from Hilton Head Island alone, an amount that would fill up Carolina Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium five times over.

Five months later, thanks for the work of legions of people, the cleanup is nearly done.

Though The Sea Pines Resort’s three courses lost hundreds of trees, (the number, like a good fish story, continues to grow in size), there wasn’t any damage that couldn’t be fixed.

“We did an assessment, and nothing changed the shot value or integrity of any of the golf courses,” said John Farrell, director of golf operations for The Sea Pines Resort.  

A couple of trees that were integral to the design of Harbour Town Golf Links were lost, but they were immediately replaced. The brand-new Atlantic Dunes got a little more renovation and Heron Point’s trees were thinned out a bit, Farrell said.

At Palmetto Dunes three courses — Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones and George Fazio — the Fazio course took the brunt of the storm.

“We lost hundreds of trees on the courses,” said Clark Sinclair, Palmetto Dunes’ director of golf.

But after the cleanup, Sinclair said it’s like the storm never happened.  “If you didn’t know the courses really well, you would never know.”

For those familiar with Hilton Head courses, they will notice a difference: It’s like someone opened the sunroof.

 “We have more circulation and sun on the golf courses,” Farrell said, adding that the hurricane thinned the canopy over Sea Pines’ courses. “It’s less claustrophobic.”

It also is great news for the turf.

“We had old-growth canopies everywhere. Now we can grow grass where we couldn’t before,” Sinclair said.

Both Sinclair and Farrell said the courses are in the best shape they’ve ever seen.

 “Maybe it’s because they were closed for two months,” Farrell said. “It relieved some of the stress on the turf. But I’ve never seen the courses looking better.”

The storm also spurred Palmetto Dunes to renovate the 55 bunker complexes on the Fazio course.

“We’ve reshaped them to their original contours and size,” Sinclair said. “We didn’t have a choice after the storm. Their faces collapsed and all of the sand was gone.”

Sinclair said the storm took out all of the weak trees, which will give other vegetation a chance to grow. “As spring comes with all the new growth, I see it’s turning out great.”

Sinclair said people took the storm in stride.

“It was nice to see how patient everyone was with us working on the courses,” he said. The Hills and Jones courses were closed for two months and the Fazio course just reopened in mid-February.

Cleanup was overwhelming at first. “You just work your way into the property. It was tree by tree, literally,” Sinclair said.

And regardless of former role, cook or clerk, those who knew how to use a chainsaw were heroes.

“For our executive staff, it was a learning experience. None of us had been through something like that. Now that they’ve done it, that’s a positive,” Sinclair said. “But I never want to do it again.”