Qianmian CongShanghai (Fore From Shanghai)!
By GBogey on 11/20/13
Course in China
Based upon a recent post I made, an oober asked if I would write an article on golfing in China. While I thought that I might someday submit an article, I wasn't expecting to do so soon. But with some light research (thanks Wikipedia) and a few questions to my friend, why not. This was actually my second time to play in China but I'm not sure the first time really counted. The first was about 2.5 years ago, not long after I took up golf, and it was probably the coldest day that I have ever played. This time I was more ready to appreciate the experience.
Golf is growing in China, with an estimated 750,000 core players. I find that a surprisingly high number of Chinese golfers have been exposed to golf in the West, either through travels or stints living in the U.S. as students or employees of U.S. companies. My host learned to play while living for 3 years in Michigan.
Golf in China is expensive and is mainly played by wealthier individuals, businessmen, and government officials. At least around Shanghai, club memberships cost the equivalent of $150,000-$250,000. Guest green fees at private and public courses run $150-200. All courses in China are either private or semi-private/resort. The concept of a municipal course does not exist.
Older courses also do not exist in China with the oldest course believed to have been built in the mid-1980s, likely for Asian businessmen who were stationed in China. Before the mid-80s, golf was banned as being too bourgeois. Any courses that existed before the Communist victory in 1949 would surely have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, if not earlier. The number of golf courses in China has increased to around 600 today and is growing rapidly despite government declarations that discourage new courses due to them being "wasteful" and "bad for the environment." This is like many contradictions that one finds in China, along with the sense that golf's growth in China includes a growing number of government / party officials.
On this trip I played at the Lan Hai International Golf Resort, a Jack Nicklaus design which is on a Chongming island, a large island (400 sq. miles) near the mouth of the Yangtze River (think Mississippi but bigger). The course is so new it does not yet have a slope and course rating. I get the sense that courses in China are lightly used, especially during weekdays. One source of play is tours of Asian players who visit China for inexpensive golf trips. There was one such tour at Lan Hai the day I was there.
Courses are kept in pristine condition, the benefit of having cheap less skilled labor. My friend tells me of a course in Southern China where the maintenance crew goes around at the end of the day with a divot mold — they cut an area around the divot and remove the soil, and then cut a matching area from fresh sod to replace the divot to create a divot-less fairway. Fairways are typically separated by large flower / plant beds which would be too expensive to maintain in the West.
There are two things that I find curious about golf in China. The first is that walking seems to be rare with everyone taking carts despite the fact that most courses are cart path only. But the cart paths tend to wind serpent-like through the fairways as opposed to hugging the edges so as to minimize the impact of cart path only.
The second is the diligent caddies, who are always women and who ride standing on the back of the cart. When the cart approaches your ball, the caddies hustle to the ball to announce the distance before you pull a club. If after your shot you decide to proceed ahead on foot, don't worry about going back for the cart, the caddies have already moved it. When you get to the green the caddie hustle ahead, mark and clean your ball, read the putt, and then place your ball with the arrow on the ball pointing towards the line. My caddie was fabulous at reading greens with only one slight misread (on a tiered green) over 18 holes. I wish I had her every week – got to be worth 2 strokes a round. Quick funny – a few times as my friend putted out, I picked up the flag to replace it. The caddies looked at me with the look of "oh no, he shouldn't be doing that."
You want her reading your putts!
The only difficulty I had with the caddies was understanding distances. This is partly due to language barriers, partly due to not understanding when they said 180 whether it meant the distance or the shot to be played (it was 1-2 club windy day). It was especially confusing because I was standing next to a sprinkler head that said 163. It wasn't until after the round that I learned that in China courses are measured to the front of the green, not the middle. This means the 6639 yards we played was well over 6700. Interestingly, golf is the only situation in China to my friend's knowledge where yards are used instead of meters.
Despite the distance issues, course length, and borrowed clubs, I shot an 88 with only 3 really bad swings and one three putt. The highlight shot was on the par 3 13th, where I had a near par-in-2. I thought I pulled my tee shot into the water (I did), and then hit a provisional ball that stopped directly on line 3 inches short of the hole.
Overall, it was a terrific experience to add to my bucket list of golf days, although I still dream of visiting Mission Hills on Hainan Island (which is a resort with 12 courses and another 10 planned). But that is the subject for another article.
This was written by Philip Gillespie, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.
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[ comments ]
Wonderful article! Thanks for accepting the challenge of writing this piece.
Duke of Hazards says:
they also look at you funny if you want to read your own greens. my biggest issue with the caddies here is they will always pull driver on all par 4s and 5s, even though you should probably just play an iron or hybrid.
and Mission Hills Haikou looks amazing. I've been trying for years to get a buddy trip together to go there.
Torleif Sorenson says:
Excellent read! Thanks for taking us across the world, to a place most of us will never visit!
Thanks for writing, enjoyed reading that.
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