THE GOLF PLAY

India Today - - GOLF -

WORLD-CLASS GOLF COUR­SES HAVE TRANS­FORMED A SLEEPY TROP­I­CAL IS­LAND IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA INTO THE GO-TO DESTI­NA­TION FOR GOLFERS, DIS­COV­ERS MERAJ SHAH

The Chi­nese have a pen­chant for the grandiose. But there's noth­ing os­ten­ta­tious or pompous about Mis­sion Hills' new golf re­sort in Hainan, though it is a tes­ta­ment to the equally le­gendary Chi­nese ef­fi­ciency. Its gen­e­sis is the now typ­i­cal China suc­cess story: 5,000 acres of land, roughly the size of Hong Kong, sav­aged by half a cen­tury of stone quar­ry­ing and blan­keted by lava rock, trans­formed in a mere mat­ter of 18 months into a world­class prop­erty with as many as ten golf cour­ses, a five-star ho­tel, sev­eral club­houses, even a spa.

How do they do it? "We have many hands in China," says Dr. Ken Chu, Vice Chair­man of Mis­sion Hills, with a grin. Chu knows what he's talk­ing about. Mis­sion Hills is the big­gest de­vel­oper of golf cour­ses in China, and the jewel-inthe-crown re­sort at Shen­zhen, on the main­land, is home to a stag­ger­ing 27 cour­ses built by Jack Nick­laus, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo and Greg Nor­man, amongst other cel­e­brated play­ers-turned-de­sign­ers.

The city of Haikou seems an ob­scure place for a project of this mag­ni­tude till you con­sider the rel­a­tive prox­im­ity to Tai­wan and Korea, both na­tions be­sot­ted by golf. "It's not just the Kore­ans and the Ja­panese, although they do con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of our vis­i­tors. We've started get­ting vis­i­tors from Europe and even the United States," he says.

It doesn't take long to fig­ure out why the re­sort reg­is­ters al­most 800 rounds a day. The top-notch Black­stone course, spread over 350 acres is a se­ri­ous cham­pi­onship lay­out, com­pa­ra­ble to the best cour­ses in Asia. It's ob­vi­ous, even at first glance, that the course, with its nat­u­ral am­phithe­ater green set­tings, has been de­signed with sig­nif­i­cant numbers of spec­ta­tors in mind. It's by no means a walk in the park as far as play­ers are con­cerned. The dif­fi­cult greens and se-

ri­ous length, a full 7,800 yards from the tips, mean that the more for­giv­ing white tees are the only op­tion for the mid- or high-hand­i­cap­per.

Hainan has a dra­matic vol­canic land­scape and the course de­sign­ers, the Ari­zona-based firm of Sch­midtCur­ley Golf De­sign, have at­tempted to in­cor­po­rate the in­her­ent char­ac­ter of the dra­matic rock into the cour­ses. It's prob­a­bly the only com­mon thread link­ing other­wise very di­verse de­signs. "As the vol­canic rock was so prom­i­nent, it just made sense, from both an aes­thetic and eco­nomic stand­points, to weave it into each golf course to vary­ing de­grees," ex­plains Brian Curley.

The cour­ses are very dis­tinct in all other aspects. "This project is a cel­e­bra­tion of my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for golf's great his­tory and the many gen­res of cour­ses found around the world," Curley says.

Sand­belt Trails is in­spired by Aus­tralia's Sand­belt cour­ses, and is high­lighted by large, dis­tinc­tive bunkers and eu­ca­lyp­tus trees, while The Pre­serve is a user-friendly course with a more modern feel. An­other strik­ing con­fig­u­ra­tion is The Vin­tage, which is fash­ioned af­ter turn of the (20th) cen­tury cour­ses with a nat­u­ral undis­turbed ter­rain. Wicker tee mark­ers and wicker bas­kets for pins add to the old-world au­then­tic­ity. "The old­est course in China is a new course in Haikou," is Curley's take on The Vin­tage.

Lava Fields at 7,400 yards is no pushover ei­ther. The course gets es­pe­cially tricky, es­pe­cially when the wind picks up. Com­pared to Black­stone, there is hard-

ly any tree cover, and the feel of big open spa­ces is ex­ag­ger­ated. The first hole is a mam­moth 585-yard, par 4 which af­fords great views of the Haikou sky­line. It's a good time to get used to prac­tic­ing a lay up on a par 4. Rest as­sured, you'll end up do­ing that quite a few times on this new and some­what tricky course.

Af­ter you're done with the day's golf it's a good idea to head to the colos­sal spa for a tra­di­tional Chi­nese mas­sage. Mis­sion Hills-hainan is cer­tainly a com­plete pack­age. It's not likely, thought, to catch up with Thai­land as the pre­ferred golf­ing desti­na­tion for In­dian play­ers for a while. There are no di­rect flights from In­dia to Hainan and the trip via Hong Kong or Bangkok takes close to 12 hours.

Lan­guage can be­come an­other is­sue, es­pe­cially if you want to step out of the Mis­sion Hills premises and ex­plore Haikou. The neigh­bour­ing city of Sanya with its sun-kissed beaches and gamut of water sports is an good get­away from a frus­trat­ing day on the greens.

If you're an in­vet­er­ate golfer, sim­ply the sur­feit of cour­ses within golf-cart rid­ing dis­tance is heady stuff. For the sheer va­ri­ety and con­ve­nience, Mis­sion Hills-hainan is in a league of its own in Asia.

The en­thu­si­as­tic team on the greens greet golfers with a cheer (above); The lobby of the ho­tel at Mis­sion Hills-haina re­flects the pared down, con­tem­po­rary aes­thetic of the prop­erty

There is hardly any tree cover on the course and the first course af­frods great views of the city sky­line

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