You might think Im talking about the Great Wall of China. Actually, I mean Mission Hills, the megagolf resort an hour into the Republic of China from Hong Kong. Evidently, ten courses werent enough. Echoing the current Chinese economic war cry for robust growth, Mission Hills has made it an even dozen. The resort has also signed a 12-year deal to host the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, the famous international good will competition of two-man teams from countries around the world. This years version starts November 22 on the Jose Maria Olazabal course.
I first visited Mission Hills four years ago, about the time its tenth course came online. I have been to St. Andrews, Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst and all the rest. They are magnificent places. But there is nothing quite like Mission Hills. This place was designed to be the biggest in the world (the two latest courses, opened in 2005, surpassed Pinehursts 180 holes to take the global lead) and to host international tournaments. The Olympics are coming to Beijing, Chinas capital, in 2008, and that creates most of the sports buzz in this massive nation. But in the south of China, an ancient saying goes, Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away. That has always been the subtext of the more commercially minded southeastern Chinese culture, and it is the spirit in which golf grows there.
Its not that theres golf as far as the eye can see. Well, there almost is. From the enormous Dongguan clubhouse (one of three), you can see construction cranes in the distance, way past the edge of the property, evidence of Chinas relentless economic powerlifting. But there is so much more to look at within the property that you forget the outside world quickly and enter golfs prodigious Middle Kingdom.
What gets you more deeply is the sheer scale of the place. The idea that there could be more than half a dozen courses in any one spot is hard to get the mind around. But an entire dozen? I can choose from twelve courses, each designed by a famous architect or player consultant? Hm. Lets see. Do I feel Olazabal, Ozaki or Sorenstam today? (The other player-designers or design consultants are Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, David Duval, and David Leadbetter, Zhang Lian Wei and Pete Dye. Also, noted architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt of Scottsdale, Ariz. have consulted on nine of the twelve.)
Even before you get to the 216 holes (stop and think about that a moment), there is a lot to take in. I recall vividly entering the Dongguan clubhouse (at 680,000 square feet, the largest) and checking out the golf shop. The three-floor golf shop. Im told its bigger than most Nordstroms. Golf balls to go with that cashmere sweater, sir? Just up the escalator. And for a post-round massage, you may want to visit one of our spasor wait for the fourth one to be built; its coming any day now. A new hotel tower is planned as well, the third building for housing outside guests.
Then its time to hit the ball. One of 3,000 (yes, three thousand) expertly trained women caddies will see to your golf needs for the next four hours or so -- not more than that, because the pace of play, and everything else at the resort, somehow operates like unerring clockwork. That includes bag storage and amenities for 10,000 members, plus resort guests.
The courses themselves are surprisingly varied, with some dramatic elevation changes. Mostly, though, there is a pleasing roll to the property, and a sane amount of trees. In the morning mist, the place can look ethereal. Only then do you lose sight of the fact that the golf estate you are enjoying is larger than five Central Parks. Yes, the huge one in New York City. Times five.
Factors of five, ten, a thousand are the currency of economic life in China these days. The pace of development in what was once one of the worlds primary anti-capitalist bulwarks is sufficiently dizzying to stupefy visiting Wall Street veterans. And that sometimes gives rise to criticism of golf in China as a sport for the rich-man minority ' although the ranks of those elite are growing rapidly. Mission Hills is undeterred, though, especially in light of the history of golf in the United States, where the sport took hold in the late 19th century among the economic upper crust, becoming more populist over the last 60 years. By bringing the Omega World Cup to China, Dr. David Chu, founder and chairman of the resort, figures he is broadening the foothold of golf in the worlds most populous country.
We are making history in the fine chronicle of golf, Chu said recently. China has a population of 1.4 billion with 400 million youths. The country is having not only the fastest growth in global golf development, but also the largest consumer market in the world. I believe hosting the World Cup of golf in China together with partners like OMEGA, the International Golf Association, the International Federation of PGA Tours under The European Tour's guidance and the China Golf Association, will go beyond just influencing sports and commercial development, it will create an impact so big it will truly turn golf into a global sport!'
The punctuation is Chus, and his enthusiasm is as clear as his talent for consensus-building. Whether golf trickles down in China in this generation remains to be seen. But if the energy that could accomplish something on the scale of Mission Hills can be applied to plebeian participation ' well, lets just say markets could open by the dozens.