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The greening of Hainan

There has long been talk within the golf industry of a "100-course future" for China's Hainan Island. With only about 25 courses around the country's southernmost province to date, such talk seemed far-fetched only a few years ago. But with the current boom in course construction, it could soon become reality.



New designs are already under construction around the island by such golf greats as Jack Nicklaus, Peter Thomson, Greg Norman and Tom Weiskopf, as well as by designers Robert Trent Jones II, JMP, Knott-Linn and Joe Obringer, among others. The Mission Hills Group, owner of a 12-course complex outside of Shenzhen, is also expanding its empire with a new project near Haikou. Though the company is tight-lipped about its plans, rumor has it that the project will feature upwards of 30 courses in a plan undoubtedly designed to sell more luxury houses.


A club currently creating a stir is the new Hainan Clearwater Bay Golf Club in the southern resort city of Sanya. Now 18 holes, with future plans calling for 54 holes, the Schmidt-Curley design is a key element of the RMB 20 billion project from Hong Kong-listed developer Agile Property Holdings. Situated on over 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land and boasting about 10 kilometers of coastline along the South China Sea, the project has been under construction for three years and will take a decade to complete. It will eventually include six luxury hotels, a marina and yacht club, a conference center and shopping street, among other amenities. The first phase of its sea view villas and golf villas have sold out and phase II is now on the market.


Though the style of the project is inspired by resort areas in Phuket, Bali and Australia's Gold Coast, the golf element of Clearwater Bay stands out with its prime sea views. The modern look of the initial par-72, 7,333-yard design makes the most of the abundant natural sand in the area with highly-manicured Seashore Paspalum grass fingers jutting into the larger bunkers and greens strategically set at varying angles to add to the challenge.


Lee Schmidt, who with partner Brian Curley built the majority of the 12 signature courses at Guangdong's Mission Hills, calls wind a major factor at the duo's first Hainan design. "Overall the course is very open with wide expansions of grass framed with a variety of trees to compliment the landscape," Schmidt says. "The strategy of the course offers challenges to all players. Bunker placement, elevation changes, water features and the varying hole-lengths and diverse angles of play designed into the course combine to create a fun and memorable experience for all."


Other course highlights include back-to-back par-three holes starting with the 13th shooting towards the sea, and the 14th along the water. "The 14th is a hole that will be talked about," Schmidt predicts. "From the elevated tee golfers have a breathtaking view of the sea to the left, and a natural dune area also creeps into the hole from the left, providing a transition down into a meandering bunker. The small green is also elevated above the fairway level, with bunkers left front and to the right of the green designed strategically to defend par." The 12th will provide another major challenge for most golfers as it measures more than 600 yards from the tips and requires driving over a lake that overflows into a cascading stream down the right side of the hole. The approach to an island green is just as difficult.


Another with strong faith in Hainan is Neil Haworth. The Phuket-based Canadian, one half of the design team Nelson & Haworth, has been perhaps the most prolific course designer in Greater China, creating more than 25 layouts. Among the most famous is Shanghai Sheshan, host venue of the WGC-HSBC Champions, the Irish links-styled Suzhou Sun Island, and the East Course at Hong Kong's Kau Sai Chau.


With partner Brett Mogg, the pair is currently putting the finishing touches on its second Hainan Island design in the 36-hole Sanya Nantian Golf Club. Located about 30 minutes northeast of Yalong Bay in an area famed for its hot springs, the inland, hilly site features spectacular rocky outcrops that have been incorporated into the design. Haworth says the Sanya Nantian site set back in the hills features two very different 18-hole layouts, with a couple of tee locations offering a distant view of the South China Sea. The locally-owned club is set for a soft opening in early 2010.


"The two eighteens will be different in that one plays around a reservoir and on flatter land, while the second plays up and down a valley and along hill ridges," says Haworth. "We also plan to differentiate the bunker styles, one will be more traditional and the other more modern."


Haworth, who also designed Luhuitou Golf Club in Sanya in 2007 and is contracted to do two other courses in Haikou, Hainan's largest city, said the island is the hotbed for course design and will be for some time.


"In five years time I think the best courses in China will be located on Hainan. There are some great natural sand dune sites and also some dramatic hilly sites," he says. "There are also lots of five-star hotels, good airports which are being expanded, and the province has great central government support. And along with Kunming the weather is second to none. But it does not matter how many courses there are, the best ones will survive and the poorly-built and poorly-located courses will suffer."


Ronald Fream, an American designer who has created numerous courses throughout Asia with his company GolfPlan, agrees. He says Hainan is the only viable growth point for golf in China. Fream says. "It's the only place with reliable warm weather, warm seas, and beaches for their tourists." Fream, designer of the acclaimed Nine Bridges in Korea, predicts that as course development continues in Hainan, it could mean that China-based golfers may never need to leave the country again.


(source: China International Business)

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