A fairway to one of China's mega golf clubs: Mission Hills Haikou

In a country with 1.4 billion people, it’s understandable that China likes to do things big. Malls are massive, amusement parks are huge and golf clubs are multiple – just to accommodate the sheer numbers. Mission Hills Haikou on the southern Hainan Island is the latest mega golf club to emerge in the country, with […]

In a country with 1.4 billion people, it’s understandable that China likes to do things big. Malls are massive, amusement parks are huge and golf clubs are multiple – just to accommodate the sheer numbers.

Mission Hills Haikou on the southern Hainan Island is the latest mega golf club to emerge in the country, with 10 courses on its property – and it’s not even as big as the biggest in mainland China. That honour belongs to the first Mission Hills Golf Club, a 12-course behemoth in ­Guangdong Province, just outside of Shenzhen.

As a reporter in nearby Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, I visited the original Mission Hills many times. It was a frequent destination because the club hosted many huge events – the 1995 World Cup on its original Jack Nicklaus-designed course and a chaotic 2001 appearance by Tiger Woods on his first visit to China were among the more memorable.

The mid-1990s were early days for the mainland’s nascent golf scene. During the next 20 years, the country would become the epicentre of the golf-course-design world. With course design in decline in western countries, China provided a lifeline for the business, attracting many of the world’s best architects and star-player designers to create new courses in the country.

While China now boasts more than 500 clubs, seldom do they get a mention among the annual rankings of the world’s best courses that are usually heavy in old, private British and ­American clubs – establishments that are usually inaccessible to the golfing public.

Over the years, I have visited and played many amazing Chinese creations. Among the memorable were courses built on towering cliffs jutting out into the water (Dalian Golden Pebble Beach, Weihai Point, Yantai Woosnam, Orient Yantai); a layout with hundreds of domestic fowl running over the fairways (Zhuhai’s Pine Valley Sports & Country Club); a monster 8,548-yard club in ­Yunnan Province (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club, where the ball rolls farther because of the 3,000-metre altitude); an actual links course with huge sand dunes (Fujian’s Trans Strait Golf Club); and tribute clubs such as the Scottish-links-inspired Tiger Beach in Shandong Province and Irish links at Suzhou Sun Island, among many more.

There are also clubs that have hosted the country’s top championships, such as Shanghai ­Silport, Tomson Pudong, Beijing ­Honghua, Shanghai Sheshan and ­Beijing’s Pine Valley, built over an old rubbish dump, no less. While it would be almost impossible to get a game at, say, Augusta ­National, home of the US Masters tournament, most private Chinese clubs provide some access for public play, usually on weekdays, space permitting.

In Hainan, public golf is what it’s all about. On the so-called “Hawaii of China”, both Beijing and the local government are keen to see the island develop as the country’s premier golf destination. While there had been talk of a 100-course future for Hainan, a 33,500-square-kilometre island, at present there are about 25 courses, created by such famous golf names as Robert Trent Jones Jr, Pete Dye, Tom Weiskopf and Colin Montgomerie.

Mission Hills Haikou, opened in 2010, is a work in progress that I finally got to experience earlier this year. The resort has been created with an investment of 30 billion Chinese yuan (Dh16.47bn), so far, aiming to attract an audience far beyond golf.

The resort includes a 539-room hotel that overlooks the nearly 20-square-kilometre property and the Schmidt-Curley designed golf courses – ranging from two pitch and putts that are full-on challenges, with tricky, undulating greens and deep bunkers, to the Blackstone course, the 7,808-yard signature layout, which has twice hosted the World Ladies Championship. What makes all 10 layouts (round prices range from US$60 [Dh220] to $400 [Dh1,469]) difficult is that they were constructed over an old lava field, meaning that any errant shot will likely disappear into the rocks.

The five-star hotel makes for a good place to kick back between rounds. Accommodation ranges from a 1,900-yuan-per-night (Dh1,043) deluxe room to four over-the-top presidential suites (38,000 yuan [Dh20,857]), which feature 350-square-metre romper rooms with a massage area and adjoining suites for bodyguards, nannies and other underlings. The lobby of the imposing 18-­storey structure is part shopping mall, part food court and part golf museum. The shops range from the ubiquitous art and big-brand clothing outlets, to a comprehensive golf pro shop offering high-end clubs and an assortment of conservative and often outrageous clothing items – the kind of fly apparel that seems appropriate on the course.

The seven restaurants and bars feature regional Chinese ­specialities, as well as western, ­Korean and Japanese food. The Magma Café is a particular standout, with food including excellent noodle soup dishes spiced with local produce. A meal on the balcony overlooking the golf course is recommended.

After a meal, a stroll through the lengthy lobby is ideal to digest and view the extensive collection of golf memorabilia on display from the events hosted at ­Mission Hills. There’s also a “Walk of Fame” with cement hand imprints of the celebrities who have graced the property over the years.

Whether you play golf or not, the biggest attraction of Mission Hills is getting outside and exploring this massive property. Adjoining the hotel is a 24,000-square-metre, 61-room spa housed in an impressive two-storey, circular Haika-style structure. Surrounding that are 168 hot and cold plunge pools that are fed by a 44,000-square-metre natural volcanic spring. The mineral springs – both communal and private – are built to represent different areas of the world. The various pools are enhanced with such things as ginseng, liquorice root and various herbals to help ailments ranging from bad back to poor eyesight.

Also around the hotel is an eco-village that details the flora and fauna on the island, as well as it volcanic beginnings. A 20,000-square-metre Wet’n’Wild is the first water park created in China by the Australian theme-park designer.

Conscious of the fact that not all people play golf, or even like this time-consuming sport, Mission Hills offers a wide variety of additional activities.

Centerville, an outdoor shopping area that opened in ­February, features retail outlets offering more than 600 top brands, plus restaurants and attractions such as the Teddy Bear Museum of Korea. There is also a Lan Kwai Fong, a 21st-century version of the famed Hong Kong bar strip that should really get hopping later this year when adjoining Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance and Hard Rock hotels open, adding about 1,000 rooms to the property.

Equally huge, at 5.7 square kilometres, is the Movie Town theme park area, built in cooperation with film director Feng Xiaogang. The attention to detail here is fantastic, right down to the overhead electrical wires – hundreds of buildings have been faithfully recreated to represent what typical China streets would have looked like 100 years ago. With the Qing dynasty (1644 to 1912) over, the period represented a prosperous time for the country when many Chinese expats returned home with newfound wealth to start businesses. ­Movie Town captures that period between the wars with different architecture styles reflecting Chinese cities such as Chongqing, Guangzhou, Fujian and Hong Kong. An Old Beijing Street is set to open at the end of the year.

Movie Town is impressive, in that like the Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles, it’s also a working studio. TV programmes and films regularly shoot there to take advantage of a backdrop of buildings that includes vintage hotels, banks, pawn shops, pool halls, cinemas, dance halls, tobacconists and tailor and dress shops.

Visitors are encouraged to get dressed up in period costumes and wander the cobblestone streets to learn about traditional Chinese medicine, participate in workshops on how to make a qipao (a body-hugging, one-piece dress), dumplings and mooncakes, martial arts, or just relax with a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.

Unlike China’s northern industrial areas, Hainan enjoys blue skies year round and a relatively pollution-free environment. With the beaches of Sanya two hours away from Haikou via high-speed train, the Hainan government is aiming to attract 80 million tourists, including 1.2 million from overseas, to the island by 2020. On the strength of the Mission Hills development, that seems a realistic goal.

acampbell@thenational.ae

Source: art & life

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