By Stephen Reynolds
Golf is taking China by storm!
As recently as 1984, there was not a single golf course within China’s 3.7 million square miles. A generation later, however, things could not be more different.
As the country laps the intoxicating elixir of capitalism, more than 500 courses now exist. Offerings range from mountainous tracks in the foothills of the Himalayas to seaside links on Hainan Island (a.k.a. “China’s Hawai‘i”).
The China Golf Association states there are three million golfers in China today, up from only 100,000 two decades ago. By 2020, it projects there will be 20 million and rank only behind the U.S. for number of players. Based on these estimates, it’s no wonder both the game’s ruling bodies and equipment manufacturers view China as the crucial market for golf ‘s future growth.
While the object of the game is still the same whether you’re in Beijing or Boston, the golf experience differs markedly.
“China never got the early ‘rules’ of golf and, instead, adapted the game to their culture,” says American Brian Curley, one of China’s leading golf course architects for more than 15 years. “Americans change their shoes in the parking lot and want a quick round in order to get back to their other responsibilities and family. To many Asians, the golf club represents their family/social scene. They are also not afraid of multi-tasking. Cell phones are not only everywhere, but you will see signs boasting about service quality at clubhouses and on first tees.”
Westerners will likely find the caddie experience most memorable. They are mandatory at the vast majority of courses, typically females, and range in age from late teens to mid 20s. Wearing wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved jumpers to ward off any chance of unwanted sun exposure, they brandish perpetual thousand-watt smiles and are great fun. One quickly learns that Kan giu means “Fore!”
Perhaps no brand reflects the newfound devotion the Chinese have for the game as aptly as Mission Hills—owner and operator of the world’s two largest golf facilities. Located one hour from the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong, Mission Hills Shenzhen is home to 12 courses. Its younger sibling, Mission Hills Hainan, opened in 2010 amid lava-rock-strewn terrain on tropical Hainan Island and features 10 layouts.
“Massive” does not begin to describe the Shenzhen development. It covers 4,500 acres (the size of five Central Parks).
More than 400 miles of irrigation pipes (the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles) and 225 miles of cart paths (the distance from New York to Washington, D.C.) snake through the golf courses.
And don’t forget your sand wedge, as approximately 5,000 truckloads of sand were required to fill its 1,200 bunkers.
Mission Hills is the brainchild of the late Dr. David Chu, who amassed a personal fortune as one of the first entrepreneurs to invest in mainland China. In 1992, he founded Mission Hills, convinced Chinese would gravitate toward golf as their standard of living improved. Day-to-day operations are now handled by his sons, Ken and Tenniel. “China has always had a love of sport, and when the country opened up to economic reform, we saw an opportunity to bring in a new sport that was loved around the world and would surely catch on given the economic development and promise it held for social prosperity,” says Dr. Ken Chu, Chairman and CEO. “Golf ‘s global nature would at the same time bring international investment and goodwill, which has always been at the heart of Mission Hills’ vision.”
But the world’s most populous country is doing more than just building courses, it’s also focused on cultivating golf’s next generation of major champions. Junior programs and teaching academies are popping up almost as rapidly as courses. And with golf returning to the Olympic Games in 2016, the Central Government has ramped up its support as well. As evidenced by the success Chinese athletes enjoy in established Olympic disciplines like diving, gymnastics and volleyball, its full backing for a sport can make an enormous difference and lead to rapid development of world-class competitors.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if a Top 20 player didn’t surface very soon and that we’ll one day see a good portion of the world’s best players from China,” says Curley.
“There is so much untapped potential.” Will supremely talented golfers be the country’s next major export? If the last two decades of dramatic growth are any indication, it’s only a matter of time.
Located one hour from the vibrant metropolis of Hong Kong, Mission Hills Shenzhen is home to 12 courses. Its younger sibling, Mission Hills Hainan, opened in 2010 amid lava-rock-strewn terrain on tropical Hainan Island and features 10 layouts.
How To Get There:
Mission Hills Shenzhen – There is regular shuttle service provided for members, guests and homeowners between Shenzhen and other clubhouses and points throughout Hong Kong.
Mission Hills Hainan – Regular shuttles are scheduled from Haikou Meilan International Airport reception (Gate C, Domestics Arrivals Hall, Meilan International Airport, Haikou City) to the Hainan location. There are also multiple stops throughout the property. An advance shuttle reservation is required.
For more information, log on to www.missionhillschina.com.
PHOTOS COURTESY MISSION HILLS CHINA