All the Tees in China
Forget the Beijing Games China is becoming an Olympic-sized golf destination
When China hosted its first major golf event the World Cup, in 1995 the game was so new to the country that spectators often picked up stray tee shots just to get a closer look at the ball. Today the only thing growing faster than China's population is its roster of golf courses. Thirty years ago there were none. Now there are more than 200.
You won't see any golf during the Olympic Games this month in Beijing, but golfers flush with a sense of adventure will find plenty of options here. Sure, you'll battle language barriers and food frights, but who says all your challenges should be on the course? Here's what you need to know to enjoy a great Chinese golf trip.
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Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club
One glance at the scorecard tells you all you need to know about Jade Dragon: it's the longest course in the world from the tips, at 8,548 yards, par 72. Designed by Neil Haworth, it sits in the shadows of the Himalayas in southwest China, at an elevation of 10,000 feet (there are oxygen bottles on the carts). Three par 3s check in at 260 yards or more, and there's an endless roster of muscular two-shot holes. When the clouds lift, the snowcapped mountain vistas are overwhelming.
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Mission Hills Resort
Mission Hills is quite simply the world's most staggering golf facility: 12 courses, 216 holes, 3,000 caddies (all women) and five clubhouses, including one 630,000-square-foot behemoth. Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley did most of the design work here, though each layout is named after its professional design consultant.
The original course is a Jack Nicklaus effort that hosted the 1995 World Cup. It's a fine test, but you'll have more pure fun on the adjoining Zhang Lian Wei Course, a two-hour joyride of par 3s that are tributes to classic holes. Or you can enjoy the Ernie Els Course under floodlights.
The best course at Mission Hills is the Greg Norman design. The bunkering is penal and the strategic choices forced on golfers leave few easy options. A good score on this one is Mission: Impossible. The Nick Faldo course is a close second in quality, with a superb back nine. Next door, the Pete Dye Course is a pale imitation of Dye's design touches it's likely to leave you more frustrated than fulfilled.
The World Cup now has a semi-permanent home at Mission Hills' Olazabal Course, a 7,320-yard monster that bulges with more than 150 bunkers, 26 of which litter the signature par-5 15th alone. The main reason it was chosen to host the World Cup is that its water-guarded 18th green is set just beneath the gargantuan clubhouse, although the course proved plenty testing. The Cup returns November 27-30.
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Spring City Golf & Lake Resort
The two courses here may be the best in China: the Jack Nicklaus-designed Mountain Course and Robert Trent Jones Jr.'s Lake Course. The Nicklaus course tumbles over ideally rolling terrain, but top-dog honors go to the 7,240-yard Jones course: The drop-shot par-3 8th might be the prettiest hole in Asia.
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Pine Valley Golf Club
It takes nerve to name your club after the top-ranked course in the world, but Pine Valley China does a decent job of pulling it off. The club boasts two Jack Nicklaus designs. The original Golden Bear Course looks like a lush transplant from Palm Springs, while the newer course is more wide open. An extra loop brings the hole count to 45, but none are a match for anything at its New Jersey namesake.
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Lijiang Ancient Town Golf Club
Not as tough or dramatic as Jade Dragon, Ancient Town is resort-style fun. The mostly flat fairways and greens, shallow bunkers, spectacular panoramas and half-dozen lakeside holes lend a pastoral aura to your round, although the armed soldiers parked by the 4th tee remind you that you're still in a closed society.