Golfweek raters take unprecedented 2-week golf trip to China

Golfweek raters take unprecedented 2-week golf trip to China

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Golfweek raters take unprecedented 2-week golf trip to China

“Hao Qiu!”, or “good shot” in Mandarin.

Music to the ears of 22 Golfweek course raters on a first-ever two-week golf tour of China.

The ancient city of Shanghai, at the mouth of the Yangtze River, was the first port of call. Opened to western trade after the 1840s Opium Wars, Shanghai has grown to become the world’s third most populous city, a financial and transportation hub, and the world’s busiest container port.

Raters gained golfing sea legs with rounds at the private Sheshan International Golf Club, a mansion-lined parkland course, and the soon-to-be private Lanhai International Golf Club-Links Course, a Jack and Jackie Nicklaus collaboration on a faux-St. Andrews layout. Both modern courses are well-done upper end layouts boasting tour events, palatial clubhouses and offering visitors imperial treatment.

The government owns all Chinese land, which presents an interesting approach to golf course/club management.

There are only a handful of public and private golf courses in China. The public tracts are owned and operated by the government and open to all. The private clubs are exclusive, owned and run by developers who generate operating income from membership initiations and dues. The bulk of Chinese golf courses (some 95 percent of them) are termed semi-private or resort, where both memberships are sold and daily fee/guest play allowed. Developers lease golf course sites under arrangements spanning 20-70 years.

Situated in a mountainous southern region, the city of Kunming (6,600 feet above sea level) – our second stop – is a cultural mixing bowl, where the languages of nearby Myanmar, Viet Nam and Malaysia influence the local Mandarin dialect (one of 55 in China). The terminus of the Burma Road, Kunming – or Spring City – was the China military headquarters of the Chinese and Americans during WWII.

Raters evaluated several scenic mountain courses, including Spring City Golf & Lake Resort – Lake Course, Robert Jones II’s effort etched into a hillside with fine views over Lake Dian, and Yulongwan Golf Club – Lakeview Course, a splendid Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley course featuring strategic bunkering and well-varied green complexes. Also sampled was the Phil Mickelson-designed Citic Jialize Golf Club – Wetlands Course, featuring complex approach angles and short vertical sod and stone walls similar to those found at Mickelson’s Whisper Rock Golf Club – Lower Course in Scottsdale, Ariz.

U.S. and Chinese golf courses certainly share similarities, but also some eye-opening differences. None more obvious than caddie culture.

Dressed in colorful coordinated outfits complete with matching hats and gloves, the Chinese caddies – mostly young women – look after a player’s every golfing need. Distances measured, clubs cleaned, and putts read are all standard caddie functions. Coring and skinning an apple, chauffeuring you in your cart, serving you spiced tea or protecting you with a sun umbrella are also offered, services decidedly not standard.

Between Kunming golf rounds the raters enjoyed a day trip to the magical Stone Forest. A geological oddity, the “forest” is actually made of densely packed pillars of limestone complete with tunnels and caves, all the remnants of a receded ancient sea. High marks from the raters for “walk in the park.”

Next stop was the tropical island of Hainan in the South China Sea just east of Hanoi. Golf highlights were the rounds at the Tom Weiskopf-designed Dunes at Shenzhou Peninsula Golf Club – East Course, a stunning seaside layout punctuated with native sand dunes and arresting vertical sandstone outcrops, and Mission Hills Resort – Blackstone Course; a Hawaii-like course by Schmidt & Curley constructed over a lava field, climaxing in a heroic trio of highly visual finishing holes.

Impressed with numbers? Try these.

Mission Hills, with 22 golf courses at two locations – Hainan and on the mainland in Shenzhen, just north of Hong Kong – comprises two of the world’s largest golf resorts. The twin-location complex employs 12,000, including 4000 caddies. The ten courses at Hainan, all designed by Schmidt & Curley, were built over an impossibly short 15-month period, all opening in 2011. They were carved out of a lava field, with construction requiring the movement of 12 million cubic yards of dirt (mostly brought in as fill), laying 280 miles of irrigation pipe, and paving 62 miles of cart paths over the 20 square kilometer site. The twelve Shenzhen courses once logged 2,800 rounds – in a single day. The Guinness world record for a shotgun event was set here when 2,000 golfers once teed off simultaneously over eight golf courses. More like a howitzer needed for that start.

The final stop on the trip – Beijing – was more about touring than golf. Requisite visits to The Great Wall (always astounding), The Forbidden City (grandly elegant) and Tiananmen Square (awe inspiring and humbling from a historic point of view) were formal tours complemented with informal on-your-own walks in this teeming Chinese capitol.

From 2011 to 2013, China poured more concrete for roads and buildings than the U.S. did in the entire 20th century. Quite evident as Beijing (Shanghai too) seems to be in a huge construction boom. Washington, D.C. has a single 64-mile beltway around the city. Beijing has six of them and they are building a seventh which, when completed, would be large enough to enclose the state of Indiana. And the traffic…let’s just say China’s congestion on the major city roads is epic. Slow play on the course isn’t the major problem. Getting to the course is.

Between visits to the sights, raters were able to squeeze in a last round at Topwin Golf & Country Club in Beijing, a pleasant Ian Woosnam design over rolling parkland. It’s the only course with a view of the Great Wall.

A trip-ending final meal at an old downtown playhouse restaurant featured stage acts, singing and a wonderful dinner including – what else? – Peking Duck. After nearly two weeks in China playing golf, we should have renamed it “Peking Fore.”

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