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TRAVEL | 41 O


ne of the beauties of golf is that, if you are lucky, the game will take you to some of the most exotic and beautiful places on earth.


THE NEW GOLF DISTRICT Golf is experiencing unprecedented growth in China—the sport was officially banned until 1984, when its first new course was built. While official numbers are difficult to come by, the most reliable estimate is that there are some 300 courses under development in China and that number is expected to double in 10 years. This isn’t about providing a sport for the masses, since only an infinitesimal number of Chinese play golf or even know much about the game. Quite simply, the government sees golf as a way to increase tourism. Tenniel Chu, the executive director of Mission Hills China,


which owns and operates 15 golf courses at two resorts in southern China, forecasts sustained growth in golf among the Chinese people. “Let me put the golfing scene here into some sort of


perspective,” said Chu. “This year is the 26th anniversary of golf development in China, and Mission Hills has been in the forefront. China is still in its infancy for growth of the game: There are about four million golfers here and about 400 clubs. There’s about a 50 percent annual growth rate, and the prediction now is that, probably by 2020, China will surpass the U.S. and have


the world’s largest golf population. It started with the elites, but more and more upper and middle-class people play. Learning to golf is a top priority, and now that golf is back as an Olympic sport, government interest and support has risen tremendously. We’re hoping to win medals at the 2016 Games.” This growth hasn’t been lost on golf course architects,


especially those from the United States, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Michael Hurzdan, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, Tom Dock, Tom Fazio and Robert Trent Jones II. The Chinese government has aided in the game’s growth by virtually eliminating the red tape that can make golf course construction in the United States such a maddeningly complicated and time- consuming endeavor. No place epitomizes the scale of China’s golf boom more


graphically than the island province of Hainan, which the government’s plan to transform into a major tourist golf destination by 2020. Plans have already been approved for between 100 and 300 courses, with much of the attention being focused on Hong Kong’s Mission Hills Group, already owners of a 12-course resort in the southern Guangdong province. “Mission Hills has employed 12 signature designers,” said


Chu. “We first built five courses designed by five designers— each from a different continent. So far, we’re the only resort in the world to do this. The first designer we chose was Jack Nicklaus.”


One of the Mission Hills golf courses in southern China’s Guangdong province.


TPC LIFE & LEISURE


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