It was an inauspicious beginning, to be sure. In
1980, China was without a single golf course. By
1995, when the unflappable American team of
Freddie Couples and Davis Love III captured the
World Cup crown in China, there were but a handful
of layouts, and golf was still so foreign to the country
that curious spectators would pick up stray drives,
just to gain a closer look at the dimpled spheroids.
“you need a youth movement for the game to
spread,” says nicklaus. “it’s going to take time.
they need facilities built everywhere.
the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square (especially
impressive during the flag-lowering ceremonies
at dusk) and a genuine Peking Roast Duck dinner
(try Quanjude’s original location, near Tiananmen
Square that dates to 1864).
Today, the number of golf courses has catapulted
to more than 500—with perhaps 250 currently
under construction and another 600 in the planning
stages. How is this boom possible in a country
where it’s technically illegal to build new courses?
Welcome to China.
Developers aren’t oblivious to the 2004 moratorium against new course construction in China.
They simply acknowledge that doing business in
the world’s most populous nation is never black and
white; it’s always shades of gray.
It’s fair to say that the food choices get stranger as you descend south from Beijing, but the golf
choices get stronger. One of the world’s most enthralling cities is Shanghai, home to a remarkable
blend of Asian and European architecture, cosmopolitan nightlife and of course, the Hairy Crab Festival in Autumn. If you can get past the image of devouring these hirsute crustaceans, they’re actually
pretty tasty, especially the less meaty, but sweeter
female crabs. However, prepare to work. For the
uninitiated, it’s an ordeal of cracking, snapping and
scraping for a payoff that’s miniscule compared to
crabs back home.
“We’re seeing more and more management opportunities in China,” says Dana Garmany, Chairman
& CEO of Troon Golf. “However, we’ve intentionally
taken our time in this market. We look for an owner/
developer with staying power, one with the financial
resources to commit to four- or five-star quality. In
China, the banks are State-owned, so they were able
to push out a lot of cash toward development when
the rest of us were in a credit crunch. The key is in
finding the right partnerships.”
lion lake, hole 5
grows, it will be very similar to the U.S. People want
to learn and to play golf, they want homes on golf
courses. China is fertile ground for us.”
Less of an ordeal is golf in and around Shanghai.
Sheshan International is a 2004 Nelson/Haworth
design 30 minutes west of downtown that plays
host to the annual HSBC Champions event, won in
2007 and 2009 by Phil Mickelson. A vast rock quarry that influences play on the 16th and 17th holes
and significant elevation changes define Sheshan.
Another must-play is Shanghai Links, a slightly mis-named Jack Nicklaus creation, as the layout is stud-ded with trees, but vistas of the East China Sea do
lend a linksy feel to the proceedings.
Garmany agrees with Jack Nicklaus, who said
recently that “the Olympics are going to change
the game from an elitist sport in China to a game
that will be an every day sport for men and women, boys and girls.”
Clearly, the fact that golf will become an Olympic sport in 2016 will spur the medal-hungry Chinese to develop golfers who can go for the gold.
That aspect is critical to China’s golf growth, according to Nicklaus.
They need facilities built everywhere. That’s one
of our goals, to try and bring as many facilities to
different areas of China and open up the game
to young people. You need teachers to teach the
teachers how to teach.”
“Golf is very aspirational,” says Garmany. “
China’s middle class will continue to grow, and as it
“You need a youth movement for the game to
spread,” says Nicklaus. “It’s going to take time.
Beijing itself is one of the world’s marvels, an
impossibly crowded, yet breathtaking tapestry of modern high-rises and ancient wonders, accessible somehow despite the suffocating traffic.
Topping your to-do list are the Imperial Palace in
Nevertheless, these days, when people speak
of the China golf boom, they’re talking about the
deep south, down in Guangdong Province, in the
western mountains of Yunnan Province, and in the
southern tropics of Hainan Island, considered the
Hawaii of China.
Troon Golf’s China entry is Lion Lake Country