China – The game is on

Ancient Town Golf Club, Lijang
Ancient Town Golf Club, Lijang

The utterly amazing transformation of this remarkable country includes the introduction of equally remarkable golf. More than 250 courses have opened in the past twenty years, two-thirds of them in the last ten, many created by the game’s leading architects and players who have been given astounding resources to make a statement. Golf is a symbol here – to the upper class individuals who play and to the nation as a whole – that they have arrived. The Chinese remain fiercely connected to their culture but they are determined to join the 21st century club and you are more than welcome to be their guest.

A summer months visit lasting from 10-14 days will allow you the chance to experience some of the game’s most impressive new courses along with what has always been a one of the most fascinating cultural and historical destinations in the world.

China’s capital is the place to begin your visit for it is here where this complex country is encapsulated. The ancient, the modern and the rush caused by the 2008 Olympic Games may be studied side by side. The Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368), the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) have left behind the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tian’anmen Square the Summer Palace, and the Great Wall. In turn one must compare these historical treasures with the astounding architectural endeavors like the Olympic Stadium, the Central Chinese Television headquarters and the National Grand Theater which is a beautiful and bizarre titanium accented giant glass egg that looks to be floating on a lake. All of this is layered on a city that’s already spent the last decade modernizing so there is no shortage of luxury lodging, world class shopping, nightlight and entertainment. The sum of Beijing’s many parts add up to one of the most intriguing metropolises on earth.

Golf begins here late in April for the more than 20 clubs in the area. One of the finest is Huatang International Golf Club, a private Graham Marsh design opened in late 1997 which accepts weekday visitor play. Only a 40 minute drive from the city center, the 7,026 layout is tree lined and beautifully maintained. The area’s leading club is Beijing Pine Valley with eighteen by Jack Nicklaus and twenty seven by Jack II. The resort is set among 1,000 wooded acres facing the Great Wall at Badaling with panoramic views of the mountains which surround the property on three sides. The clubhouse, by the prestigious British firm G|A Design, is something to see as well.

Hong Kong– Shenzhen
Given the city’s previous history as a British colony, it’s no surprise that the game appeared here at an early date. Founded in 1889, The Hong Kong Golf Club is home now to three layouts plus the European Tour’s UBS Hong Kong Open. It’s a private club but like many in China, will accept visitor play on weekdays. Very possibly the most recognizable club in China is 45 minutes north of the city at Mission Hills in Shenzhen. Founded in 1994 and billed as the largest club in the world, you can select from 12 signature courses designed by golf legends from five continents and most recently, what is described as the largest putting green in the world. The resort offers a full range of luxury amenities and serves as an excellent base with easy access to Shenzhen and Hong Kong.

Then there is the city. The dining, the shopping, the energy of Hong Kong is beyond compare. You’ll need your own energy as well because a long list of experiences like Tin Hau and Tam Kung Temples, Madam Tussauds, and The Star Ferry are not to be missed.

Hainan Island
A 50 minute flight south west of Hong Kong will bring you to the beaches and breezes of tropical Hainan Island. If R&R is in order this is the place to do it. The entire province exists as a leisure destination with exceptional choices for hotel, dining, entertainment and golf. Two of the best layouts include Yalong Bay, a Robert Trent Jones design that routinely ranks among China’s top ten; and Sun Valley, a 7,875 yard behemoth that is in fact a treat….from the forward tees. Amazingly enough, the course is nearly 700 yards shorter than the country’s (and the world’s) longest course, and its 828 yard par 6 eighteenth recently lost honors as the country’s longest hole! Colin Montgomery’s Meishi Mayflower International, Graham Marsh’s BFA International and Kangle Garden – a 5-star hot spring and golf resort located in the famous Xinglong Hot Spring area – easily earn honorable mention.

Yunnan Province
The most southwest region of China bordering Vietnam, Laos, and Burma is home to Yunnan, or “Beautiful Clouds in the South”. Cut off from the world until recent times, today it remains essentially a virgin land where you can observe cultures whose layers reach back for thousands of years. The natural beauty of Yunnan Province is a see-it-to-believe-it proposition. It has glaciers gliding down mountain ranges that are snow-capped year round, deep virgin forests, hot springs, precipitous valleys, beautiful farmlands, and the largest number of plant species in China (more than 18,000) which bloom throughout the year. Do not leave without seeing the amazing Stone Forest, a 186 square mile labyrinth of towering limestone known since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) as the ‘First Wonder of the World.’

Some believe that the Shangri-la referred to in James Milton’s Lost Horizons was located in Yunnan. There is no mystery however about the local work of Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones, Jr at luxurious Spring City Golf & Lake Resort. Nicklaus’ Mountain Course has been ranked as China’s best by Golf Digest; its 18th one of the world’s best 500 by Golf Magazine. Meandering along the shore of Wenbihai at the foot of Wenbi Peak at Lijiang, the golf course of Lijiang Ancient City International Golf Club goes up and down under the silhouette of Yulong Snow Mountain with great momentum. The PGA standard golf course is of international quality, with a total length of 7,661 yards. The world’s mightiest golf course is found 10,000 feet high on the provinces’ northwest border. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club goes on for 8,548 alpine scenic yards. And plays to par 72. But, at this altitude you can bomb so step up. You’ve come a long way, play the long tees!

Like Beijing, this is also where the 21st century is furiously taking shape in China. Shanghai is reinventing itself with the fastest economic expansion the world has ever seen. Much of the activity is found across the Huangpu River in Pudong, the city’s “New Bund”, soon to be home to the world’s tallest building. Several hundred years ago the original Bund was the center of Shanghai life – culture, politics, and economy. Now it is a required walk along the waterfront to dine, dance and admire 52 buildings of various architectural pedigree from Gothic and Baroque to Romanesque and Renaissance. You’ll also visit the Shanghai Museum, and Yu Yuan Gardens – five acres of 400 year old classical Chinese gardens in the Old Town. Spring and fall are the best times to visit here as the summer months are often hot and humid.

The golf you’ll want to play is found at Silport and Binhai. Silport is a 27 hole facility, ranked by Golf Digest as a China top 20, and home to the European Tour’s Volvo China Open. The club has also been recognized for the quality of its caddies which are all female. Binhai Golf Club is a 36 hole Peter Thompson design opened in 2000. As you might expect from this 5-time British Open champion both layouts – one by the lake, the other through a forest – are characterized by Scottish links features including rolling, rumbling fairways and deep, steep faced bunkers. The occasional breeze blowing off the East China Sea can add to the challenge. Opened in 2004, the Sheshan International Golf Club has become one of the best known courses in China as it has hosted an annual Professional event which was recently raised to WGC status.

Side Bets: Guilin & Xi’an
In order to experience China fully you’ll want to leave your sticks in their travel case for a few days while you visit Guilin and Xi’an. Located about an hour’s flight due west of Hong Kong in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is where you will discover Guilin, one of the most picturesque places on earth. Two crystal-clear rivers meander through the city, which is encircled by mountains with unusual and bizarre karst rock formations and caves. The limestone cliffs that surround the city and line the Li River have provided backdrops for countless Chinese paintings. For a relaxing change of pace, take the boat trip from Guilin toYangshuo down the Li River for 30 miles of breathtaking scenery.

Xi’an is China’s historical heart and one of the birthplaces of ancient civilization. Thirteen dynasties such as Western Zhou (11th century BC – 771 BC), Qin (221 BC – 206 BC), Western Han (206 BC – 24 AD) and Tang (618 – 907) once placed their capitals here but it was originally settled in the Neolithic Age as evidenced by the popular Banpo Museum which dates back approximately 6,000 years. Xi’an, along with Athens, Cairo, and Rome, is recognized as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals. The Big Goose and Small Goose Pagoda’s are not to be missed in Xi’an but perhaps the most remarkable sight to see is the terra-cotta warriors. Built over 36 years and finished in 211 BC for the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huang, 6,000 life-size armed warriors and horses are assembled in an underground vault 351 yards long and 68 yards wide… not unlike one of Phil Mickelson’s drives!

China 2010 Sample Itinerary:
China Golf & Culture ~ Beijing, Kunming, Lijiang & Hong Kong

About the Author: Gordon Dalgleish is the Co-Founding Director of PerryGolf, the leading provider of international golf vacations. You can find him on Google+