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Mission Accomplished

With 10 designer-name golf courses, China's Mission Hills has become the world's largest golf resort
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Camilo Villegas, July/August 2006

(continued from page 2)

At the opposite end of the scale from Norman and Olazabal are the Duval and Sorenstam designs, the least punishing routings. But neither are pushovers, and Sorenstam's features ample bunkering that can be tough to avoid. "The bunkers are in all the right places, and it is obvious that she put a lot of thought into every shot," Ch'ng says about Sorenstam, the only player—designer here making a debut.

The 10 famous designers are the resort's trademark, and all but the Nicklaus layout are named after the stars. Even in the pro shops these themes are stressed: nowhere else will you find more bear and shark head covers, and in a nod to a visit by Woods, tigers as well. (In 2001, Woods squared off here against three top Asian pros in the Tiger Woods China Challenge.) While the Norman layout is number one with guests, the World Cup course started it all and has the most history, with the resort's biggest tournament to date.

"We are very proud of the golf course, because it was just our second course in China," says Nicklaus. "We wanted the course to be extremely playable for the Chinese and the locals [club members] because golf was relatively new to the country. It is very gratifying now to see that the course is still very player—friendly and preferred among the members, but at the same time is among the favorites for the touring pros. I think we did our job."

If for some reason you end up at Mission Hills for just one round, the World Cup course is the obvious choice, but the Faldo is the most popular with members, many of whom feel that the Norman course is too hard. "I hate to say it because the term is overused, but Faldo really is the best kept secret here," Ch'ng says about the course, which offers plenty of jungle and mountain views. Brian Curley agrees: "I've seen all the top courses in China and I believe it is the best in the entire country."

Adds Curley, "Mission Hills is a phenomenon on so many levels: it's not just that it is big. It is in China, and it is where all golf in China begins, with international tournaments, with Tiger Woods; everything here springs from it. People assume that because it is in China, the golf will [just] be OK, but it is really good, and the quality of golf surprises people. You could put the Faldo course anywhere in the world and it will easily hold its own. The scale of the operation, the number of caddies—it is all mind—boggling. And the cultural aspect, the caddies, where you are, it makes it different from any normal round of golf."

Despite cultural differences (where else can you find a Japanese garden, a table tennis facility and a foot reflexology center in one locale?), guests will find that Mission Hills is practically like any other big—time golf resort, only bigger—it can accommodate up to 2,000 golfers per day. Caddies are required; 2,500 are on hand (all women dressed in Mission Hills uniforms), almost 200 of whom speak English. All the westernized golf course touches are here, including an elaborate practice range, 150—yard stakes, rangers, halfway houses and brand new carts. And the resort's hotels and clubhouses could have been transplanted whole from Palm Springs or Scottsdale.

Navigating Mission Hills is simple. The Shenzhen Complex is mostly self—contained, with a spa, restaurants and nearly all of the golf courses within walking distance of the hotel. (The Dongguan Complex will offer the same complete—resort convenience once the boutique hotel opens.) The user—friendly setup extends to the golf itself, easily allowing you to play a week's worth, even at 36 holes a day.

To make the golf even more accessible, Chu has completely lighted 18 holes at each complex for night play, and the technology works surprisingly well. At Shenzhen, the back nines of the Ozaki and Els courses have been combined for a contiguous 18, and at Dongguan, nine selected holes from each of the Sorenstam and Duval courses are used.

Mission Hills's myriad attractions have finally begun to earn it formal recognition. The International Association of Golf Tour Operators just named it Golf Resort of the Year—Rest of the World—2006. The bottom line is that there is not one inferior course here, and the conditioning and golf operations are up to U.S. resort standards. At the same time, the lodging, dining and non—golf activities are very good and getting better, and the spas are the modern luxury versions upscale travelers have grown used to.

Now that he has big—time courses and big—time names, Chu wants to develop a big—time tournament that will make Mission Hills a household name. If anyone in China can deliver this dream, it is Chu, the man whose vision helped turn his country into one of the world's top golf destinations.

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