Travelling Lady Golfer

Golf in China at its best

Golf in China is growing at a huge rate, especially on the island of Hainan, which is home to Mission Hills Haikou, the world’s second largest golf complex with 10 golf courses, and the spectacular Sheraton Dunes. Sarah Forrest details her visit.Flying via Hong Kong, China is surprisingly accessible. After a short add-on flight to Hainan Island, you find yourself at Haikou airport, the most southerly holiday destination part of China. A two-hour transfer south to Shenzhou Peninsular enables you to really embrace the Chinese landscape during the journey. Expecting to see paddy fields at every turn, I was surprised by the lush tropical flora of this part of China and, despite the large population, that it wasn’t overcrowded in the slightest.

Arriving at the Sheraton Shenzhou Peninsula Resort we were greeted by lined-up smiling staff, a cool drink and a beaded necklace, before being huddled into reception where efficiency reigned over the check-in process. A large hotel which retains its charm is a tough nut to crack, the hotel has areas sectioned off for the bar, the reception and of course the variety of restaurants all available on site.

A Far Eastern beachside hotel with 36 holes of golf, the Sheraton doesn’t disappoint with warmth oozing from the staff and from the building itself as it uniquely embraces each visitor.

The Sheraton Dunes East and West courses are so called for the enormous dunes, where you can ground your club – but if you’re that wayward, being able to ground your club is the least of your worries as these courses, while narrow in places, have large welcoming greens of a great standard, and readable putts. Or you could just rely on your caddy – they are trained specialists on both courses, they certainly know the lie of the land and will beat themselves up if you miss your putt. Dedication to the job is paramount to these people and while English is relatively off the radar for some, most caddies are worth their weight in gold.

Both 18-hole golf courses sit on site for this resort hotel, both with views across the South China Sea, a beautiful 5* hotel with every food available under the sun, cooked perfectly, on offer, what could anyone else want from their golf holiday?

Next stop Mission Hills on Hainan Island (not to be confused with the other Mission Hills – Shenzhen – the world’s largest golf facility with 12 courses). Preparing myself for the unexpected, I was not disappointed. Being likened to Disney, this quirky golf resort has golf courses in which the design has been influenced from the best around the world. Designer Brian Curley has not been lazy in the approach; building 10 golf courses offering 44 miles of golf in 18 months is some feat of engineering. Couple this with the 5* complex itself, with restaurants to tantalise the taste buds from various parts of the world, six restaurants with local delicacies including freshly made wontons in front of your eyes – a treat for the eyes followed by a treat for the tastebuds as these freshly prepared snacks are devoured in quick succession. A man-made beach with an array of colourful floating devices to entertain the children and adults alike, a beach with a bar, is a great location for a barbecue for the perfect tropical experience.

The best known golf course is Blackstone, location of PGA championships and a course not to be missed. Quite tough, with narrow target fairways in places over ravines and greenery beguiling the drop down into the abyss. Cart paths weave themselves around the course with ease with an agile caddy ready to jump into the vegetation as your ball careers towards the menacing yet beautiful flora to engulf your ball. Large greens in good condition are in order and the caddy once again comes into her own and lines you up to perfection.

‘Golden Caddies’ are one step above the regular caddies, they have earned the right to teach and mentor other caddies as they join Mission Hills, taking pride in their work, are willing to please and are wonderful advocates for golf at Mission Hills. Despite their lack of wealth, they often buy for the client local delicacies and are more than happy to share their lunch boxes with you too! However, they do have one failing – chocolate! Chocolate is a currency, not that I’m saying you can tip them in chocolate, of course you can’t do that, but once they know you have a hoard to share with them, they will love you forever. But they don’t take their hoard of chocolate back and stash it away, they share it with their room mates every night, being the kind, gentle people they are.

Stone Quarry golf course is a quirky feature of Mission Hills, with suspended train carriages part way up, broken rail tracks as the mining carriage are about to fly off the rails just at that moment the pause button has been pressed. Sandbelt trails replicate the sandbelts of Australia, and the Vintage Course, home of LET events and with unusually square shaped bunkers, ensure a double take glance as you stand on the tee thinking: ‘this looks weird, but why?’ Shallow lines of bunkers one after the other in Terracotta Warrior fashion are barely wide enough to get in and take the shot out. A relatively tough shot with no sand to play with, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see the ball come cleanly out of one bunker and land in the next narrow bunker strip just a metre away.

Volcanic rock dominates the whole complex, adding a black gold sparkle in the hunch weather with the sun dancing on the sparkles in between rain showers as you drive around the golf courses.

So if you’re looking for something different, something unusual, something quite spectacular, golf on Hainan Island offers you all of these – plus some.

Published in The Golf Business February 2018

Sarah can be emailed via [email protected]

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