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CHIN A


S W I N G S TA T E


It’s not only China’s golfers that are making their mark on the


sport, it’s also the world-class courses of their homeland Words: Alex Mead


T


o talk of China’s potential in any sport, is to state the obvious. When your population is upwards of a


billion or so, you can prety much achieve anything you set your mind to. The rule certainly applies to golf, and while America might not be looking over its shoulder and worrying about its golfing superpower status just yet, China is coming up on the rails. A look at the world rankings doesn’t give


much cause for concern. The top 100 has Li Haotong at number 64. But don’t be fooled by his modest position. In 2015, as a 20-year-old debutant, he


joined the tour with aplomb, taking the Volvo China Open title at Beijing’s Topwin Golf and Country Club with a final round of 64. And only last year, he secured T2 at the Turkish Airlines Open and with it, the prize purse of €557,077 (£496,848). But it’s not the potential of Li that’s made


the sport take note, it’s over in the women’s game, where you only need glance at the top six rankings to find your first Chinese player, namely Guangzhou-born Shanshan Feng. A perennial contender in all the majors,


and winner of several LPGA tour events, Shanshan’s real moment in the Chinese


spotlight came at the Olympics — the doyen of all sporting occasions in the eyes of both officials and the public in China — when she captured a bronze medal in Rio. “If anybody [of the four Chinese players in the Olympic tournaments] can have a good result, maybe a medal, it’s going to really change everything about golf in China,” she said at the time. “And of course, I mean, I made it, so that made me even more happy about it.” That bronze medal — a single shot shy


of silver — was truly worth its weight in gold to China’s golfing community. For the Olympics, golf had found its way from the niche cable channels to mainstream television, so everyone could celebrate Shanshan’s efforts.


Natural wonders China’s wannabe golf Olympians — and indeed those of us looking for a new destination to take our clubs — have some truly spectacular setings from which to choose. Just as the nation’s playing numbers are on the rise — thought to be upwards of five million — so too are the courses. Even though a clutch were shut down in an official clampdown in 2015, the building of


resorts and clubs has been fervent since the millennium. A new report states that there are close to 500 courses with a further 56 in development, and as with so many things, China doesn’t do things by halves. Take Skydoor Golf Club in Zhangjiajie,


Hunan — a more rural seting, showing the very best of the Chinese landscape. Designed by American architect Richard Mandell on the doorstep of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, facing the cave of Tianmen Mountain. The main 18 covers 342-acres and works its way through a land of jungle, wetlands and lakes, with Mandell using every trick in his book to create a course that’s challenging but still in keeping with the surrounding geography. Balancing nature with the demands of


a modern day golfer is key to the success of rural courses in China — the courses on offer are occasionally so ethereal, they could only be built here. With such unique landscapes as a canvas, the golfing picture painted could be one of the most stunningly unique in the world — as long as it can get the golf aficionados on board. Too hard and they’ll worry about their handicap, too easy and they won’t bother


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