Before the 1980s there were no golf courses in China. Today there are over 500 and hundreds more are in the pipeline. Many are of fantastic quality, designed by some of golf’s most legendary names including Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tom Weiskopf. Here’s our guide to 8 of the best.
Situated in the southwestern province of Yunnan, with a vista of mountains and lakes unfolding all around, this Jack Nicklaus design provides aesthetic high points as it winds ingeniously over undulating ground. The two courses here, at an elevation of 2,100 meters, have been built over a land of great beauty using bent grass. The fairways are generousand it’s one of the more friendly Nicklaus layouts you will ever play. That’s until you get to the greens, where tough reads and big borrows greet even the shortest putt. The 18th is a 465-yard classic, one of the best finishing holes in China, requiring two blows off the middle of the club to reach the green.
Minimalist master designers Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have made the most of an outstanding site on the southern island province of Hainan, shaping a course of understated beauty that overlooks the South China Sea. The course has a wide array of landforms, sand dunes, chasms, foliage and cliffs. The exposed par-3 16th drops more than 70 feet to the green, and depending on the wind you might be forced to choose between five clubs. It’s a course when the wind is a big factor and it has a Ballybunion, West Ireland feel about many of the holes.
True to its name, this 7,475-yard Brian Curley design on Hainan Island offers the juxtaposition of a lush green verdant layout etched through a moody lunar landscape of dark rock. The fairways are fast-running, generous and wide, allowing you to open your shoulders from the tee. It’s a solid, straight forward routing with none of the long walks from green to tee that feature on many Chinese courses. The 18th is a downhill, strategic par 5 with a variety of playing options.
Geoff Ogilvy’s Australian design team have remodelled this course that runs alongside the Yangtze river in eastern China. A complete renovation of the original Nicklaus course has given it a more representative feel of the surrounding environment. It’s now more rugged and features sandy waste areas giving it a links feel. It now plays through the dunes as opposed to playing on top of them, and the greens feel part of the mounding and blend in superbly. A great test of golf.
Robert Trent Jones has used the local mountain topography of the southern Yunnan province to achieve his design dictum that a course should be strategic, heroic and penal. At over 6000 feet, the elevation is a welcome escape from the sweltering summers. Every drive deserves full concentration apart from the wider landing area on the 13th. This hole is a gentle dogleg where you can hit it hard off the tee towards a green that cambers left towards a steep cliff. It’s one of the most serene and tranquil courses you will ever play, situated only an hour from the bustling city of Kunming.
This Tom Weiskopf-designed gem is situated on the south side of Hainan island. Out of the two courses here, the West course has drawn the most plaudits. Many holes run alongside the South China Sea and the most memorable, the 547-yard 16th, literary touches it. You drive to a split-level fairway and the green is located out on a small peninsula that sweeps away to a sandy beach. The landing areas are generous and, like most Weiskopf designs, there is a wonderful subtlety to the whole package.
With 12 courses, this is the biggest golf resort in the world and is located near the city of Shenzhen in the Guangdong province. The Greg Norman-designed course here is a mammoth test of golf where the second 9 alone measures 3,707 yards. It has two par 4’s of 485 and 486 yards and a 646-yard par 5. Some of the carries off the tee are up to 260 yards and the rough is of the stubborn fescue variety. The par-4 12this a great hole with a slight dogleg, a 220-yard carry over water from the tee and a horrendously difficult bunker protecting the front of the green. Walk off with a par and it will feel like a birdie.
Opened in 1985, the Shenzhen Golf Club is one of China’s oldest golf courses. Only 10 minutes from the Hong Kong border, it remains immensely popular. The Nelson Haworth redesign in 2000 gave it a complete revamp and made it one of China’s finest. Lychee trees line the generous fairways of this 27-hole layout, where greenside bunkers are challenging and greens are treacherous. The course is always in pristine condition and well maintained. The Volvo China Open was played here in 2005, won by England’s Paul Casey.