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Asia's Most Memorable Golfing Experiences

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GOLF A TRAVEL Player’s Guide Courtesy of Tiger Beach Golf Links Seventh heaven: the green at the par-4 seventh at Tiger Beach Golf Links, arguably the closest course to a proper links in Asia, lies hard by the Yellow Sea 64 HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 HKGOLFER.COM


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Asia’s Most Memorable Golng Experiences There’s playing golf – and then there’s really experiencing this greatest of games. Alex Jenkins provides a checklist of what avid Asia-based golfers might wish to sample before they sign their final scorecard. HKGOLFER.COM HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 65


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Journey to Tiger Beach Charles McLaughlin (Fanling); Courtesy of the Kawana Hotel The famous Fanling verandah and clubhouse (above) during the Hong Kong Open is the most hospitable of spots; an aerial view of the Fuji Course at the Kawana Hotel in Japan, the work of the brilliant architect Charles Alison 66 HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 During the heady days of China’s golf course construction boom in the early 2000s numerous clubs, presumably in their eagerness to drum up publicity and therefore business, contrived outlandish – and wholly incorrect – descriptions of their courses. Thus you’d find generic parkland layouts that featured expansive waste areas being described as “desert” courses. Tracks that had been almost comically over-bunkered were said to be “echoing the philosophy of the famous sandbelt courses of Australia” – or some such drivel. But the claim that really used to get my goat was the one spouted by seemingly every new course situated within relative proximity to the ocean – that they were a links, as in, “Our world-class links brings to mind the great Scottish courses, such as St Andrews, Muirfield and Carnousite.” The only thing that bore any connection to Scotland, of course, was the Johnnie Walker on display behind the bar in the palatial “Turnberry” grill room. But given China’s issues with counterfeit brands perhaps even that could not be said. There is one course in China that fully lives up to its links billing, however, and that is Tiger Beach Golf Links, a wonderful and at times quirky track that lies hard by the Yellow Sea in Shangdong province. Tiger Beach is the brainchild of Beta Soong, a Taiwanese entrepreneur who fell in love with the original form of the game on a visit to Scotland over two decades ago. Determined to create his own links in China, Soong spent years finding a suitable site before plumping for this rugged beachside venue a little over an hour’s drive from the mainland’s beer-producing capital of Qingdao. Tiger Beach, it has to be said, isn’t 100 per cent authentic – the extremely likeable Soong installed a replica Swilcan Bridge to cross a tiny streamlet in front of the fifth tee – but that touch of naffness aside, Soong’s concept of bringing Scotland to Shandong has otherwise been tremendously successful. Firm, narrow landing areas and cleverly contoured greens protected by deep pot bunkers are testament to that, while the goats that roam among the rough-clad dunes away from the fairways give a clear indication that this is golf of a very different breed. Things are strikingly different off the links too. The small clubhouse, which has been built entirely from local stone, is a cozy place and about as unpretentious a 19th hole that you can find in this part of the world, while dining options are not limited to the largely northern Chinese and Korean dishes listed on the menu: in warmer months, the club regularly hosts barbeques on the beach, which – thanks to the vast quantities of the famous locally-brewed Tsingtao beer on offer – tend to last long into the night. The Tiger Beach experience is so unlike anything else in Asia that it must be tried. At least once. tigerbeachgolf.com HKGOLFER.COM


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Grab a Table on the Verandah Is there a more enjoyable place to settle in for a few post-round libations than the verandah at the Hong Kong Golf Club? We really don’t think so – and the pros would seem to agree. During the Hong Kong Open, the players’ lounge, located away from the public within the confines of the clubhouse, is empty because they’re all hanging out on this most convivial piece of colonial architecture, gorging on Singapore Noodles (in the running for Hong Kong’s finest), supping glasses of gunner and chatting merrily amongst each other about the merits of flying Business Class on Emirates (“great telly”) and the differences between the BMW M4 Coupe and the BMW M6 Gran Coupe (“about thirty grand”). That changes somewhat on the Sunday afternoon when the gunners are replaced by f lagons of the sponsors’ brew and the conversation turns to the merits of the ladies serving it up and why Jiménez always excels at Fanling (“that five-yard draw of his sets him up perfectly”). With or without the pros and their insightful chat, the verandah is really unmatched by any 19th hole in the Eastern Hemisphere. hkgolfclub.org HKGOLFER.COM Take a Step Back in Time Mother Nature’s role in the evolution of the Old Course at St Andrews aside, the most important era in the history of golf course architecture was undoubtedly the first four decades of the twentieth century. Known within the industry simply as the Golden Age, the period was highlighted by the construction of a flood of courses that are now considered classic. It was during this time that the English gems of Sunningdale and Wentworth were born. In Scotland, Gleneagles and Royal Dornoch came into existence. Across the Atlantic, Augusta National, Winged Foot, Cypress Point and Pine Valley – among many, many others – were laid out. Australia had Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath, while South Africans enjoyed themselves on the links of Humewood and Durban Country Club. Even Argentina got in on the act with the establishment of two cracking layouts at the prestigious Jockey Club in Buenos Aires. Great courses, one and all. But what of A sia? The common perception that golf is new to the Far East is understandable, but actually false. And while India and Sri Lanka boast the oldest courses at Royal Calcutta and Royal Colombo – which were inaugurated in 1829 and 1879 respectively HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 67


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Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour (Thailand Golf Championship) Martin Kaymer in action during last December's Thailand Golf Championship, a tournament that attracts a handful of the world's best players 68 HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 – it is in Japan, at the courses designed by Charles Hugh Alison, where you’ll find Asia’s finest contribution to this groundbreaking age. Alison’s story is an interesting one. Unlike his contemporaries – men like AW Tillinghast, Donald Ross, George Crump and Alister MacKenzie – his is not a name that many recreational golfers will be immediately familiar with. During his time as junior partner to the legendary Harry Colt, Alison collaborated on such noteworthy designs as the Seaside Course at Sea Island and the original eighteen holes at Long Island’s Timber Point. The unsung Englishman is even credited with helping to complete four remaining holes at New Jersey’s Pine Valley – generally regarded as the best course in the world – after Crump died in 1918. But it was in Japan, a country that few western architects of the era ever visited, that Alison really made his mark. During a sixmonth stay in the country, Alison designed four courses, including the Fuji Course at Kawana Hotel, a spectacular clifftop jewel on the Izu Peninsula two hours south of Tokyo; Naruo, a splendid almost heathland-style course near Osaka that brings to mind the aforementioned Sunningdale; and the most famous of all: venerable Hirono, Alison’s rolling masterpiece on the outskirts of the port city of Kobe which has been a mainstay of magazine polls’ top 100 golf courses in the world for decades. Noted for their small greens and vast, irregularly shaped bunkers (known in Japan simply as “Alison’s,” or “Arissons,” depending on the accent of the Japanese you speak to), Alison’s courses are the complete antithesis of the majority of courses built today; neither especially long nor particularly reliant on water, the sweeping, well-protected fairways and subtle features of the greens complexes make them a true shot-makers delight. Although Hirono requires a member’s introduction (the club is so private it doesn’t even stretch to a website), both Naruo and Kawana welcome visitors year-round. Make the effort – you won’t be disappointed. princehotels.com/en/kawana naruogc.or.jp Watch the Stars In terms of professional golf, Asia is no longer the far-flung outpost it once was. The growth of the Asian Tour, the European Tour’s own eastward expansion and, crucially, the emergence of deep-pocketed sponsors – both corporate and individual – mean the world’s very best players regularly make forays out to our neck of the woods, particularly towards the end of the year. As far as star attractions go, the tournament that routinely boasts the biggest names is the HSBC Champions, which has now been designated World Golf Championship status. HKGOLFER.COM


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Robin Moyer; Courtesy of Himalayan Golf Course; The fine par-4 16th hole at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai (above), one of the most private courses in Asia; The truly unique Himalayan Golf Course (opposite) in Phokara, Nepal, lies in a 250-foot deep river valley 70 HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 Tiger has appeared in Shanghai on plenty of occasions (but has never won), Mickelson is a regular and even Bubba Watson, traditionally not the most avid of travellers, wowed all and sundry last time around with his captivating performance over the closing holes. For those who prefer to see a sprinkling of the game’s elite but without competing against vast hordes of spectators – and the Champions event is one where access to the corporate hospitality on the weekend is a tremendous boon –a trip down to Bangkok for the Thailand Golf Championship makes for a very worthy alternative. The event, played at Amata Spring in December, attracts the likes of Lee Westwood (a two-time winner), Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Rickie Fowler and Bubba for a preChristmas showdown with a full field of Asian Tour pros. The sun always shines, the course looks a picture and the pros, given the time of year, are generally in relaxed mood. Grab a Singha and follow them round. hsbcgolf.com thailandgolfchampionship.com Go Exclusive In this day and age of trying to make golf as appealing as possible to the wider populous, banging on about the virtues of strictly private golf clubs, those open to only well-heeled members and their select guests, might be considered somewhat politically incorrect. But golfers are the same as everyone else: they like a challenge. And getting a game at an exclusive track, where the fairways are largely free of, well, anyone else, where the staff go the extra mile to lay on top-notch service pre- and post-round and where a jacket is often required for dinner, does tend to make you feel like you’ve arrived as a golfer – albeit only for around five hours or so. It comes as no surprise to learn that there are a great number of strictly private golf clubs in Asia –many of which can be found in the northern reaches of the continent in Japan and Korea. But the best, with the exception of Hirono (see the Take a Step Back in Time), are located a little closer to home. Think Sheshan in Shanghai, home of the annual WGC-HSBC Champions; Shanqin Bay, the fabulous Coore and Crenshaw design on Hainan’s eastern seaboard; The Country Club, Tom Weiskopf’s luxurious creation near Manila and, of course, Shek O, Hong Kong’s diminutive coastal cracker which boasts some of the most agreeable golfing terrain in this part of the world. Now all you need to do is butter up a few worthy members and a few hours of golfing bliss awaits. sheshangolf.com en.shanqinbay.com HKGOLFER.COM


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Take to the Skies Victoria Golf and Country Resort, tucked high above a reservoir to the west of Kandy in Sri Lanka’s mountainous central region, ranks among the world’s most beautiful courses. Designed by noted British architect Donald Steel, this championship-calibre track winds its way through tropical jungle and rocky outcrops and affords magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. Playing it is a thrill – but so is the journey getting there. Just a few years ago, the only way of reaching Victoria from Colombo, the country’s capital, was by car, which entailed a four-hour slog up a constantly twisting road. That all changed, thankfully, following the launch of SriLankan Airlines’ Air Taxi service. Using Cessna Caravan aircraft mounted on amphibious floats, the service transports you from Waters Edge near downtown Colombo to the Polgolla Reservoir Airport in just 25 minutes. From there, it’s less than 30 minutes by taxi to the course. Prices are low – typically around HK$1,000 each way – and the views of this most stunning of island nations are spectacular. But if you really want to splurge, why not charter your own plane from Colombo straight to Victoria Reservoir, right on the club’s doorstep. srilankan.com golfsrilanka.com HKGOLFER.COM Get High, Play Cool Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club, located within easy reach of the Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the northwest of China’s Yunnan province, is reputedly the longest golf course in the world at a staggering 8,500 yards. There’s a reason for this: it is also amongst the world’s highest. Taking its name from the snow-capped mountain range that surrounds it, the course, the work of Singaporebased architects Nelson & Haworth, sits at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet, meaning the ball flies at least 15 per cent further here than it does at sea level. There’s really not much that can compare with the joy of connecting with a drive and seeing it fly off at a distance not otherwise achievable on a regular course. But Jade Dragon is not all about length. Its dramatic locale, the quality of its design and the oxygen canisters in your golf cart (worth a ‘hit’ if you’re starting to feel the effects of the altitude) combine to make this a truly unique golfing experience. Following a similar theme, a round at the Himalayan Golf Course in Phokara, Nepal must also be considered for those in search of an otherworldly event. Well and truly off the beaten path, this 18-hole layout, set high in the Annapurna foothills, was designed by an exBritish Army Commissioned Officer, Major RB HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 71


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Gurung, who somehow had the vision to sculpt this rollicking track out of a 250-foot deep river valley. The results are sensational, with steep elevation changes, ‘island’ greens and forced carries over the snow-fed river characterizing much of t he course’s 6,90 0 yards. The Himalayan Golf Course is one of those places that have to be seen to be believed. ljxsgolf.com himalayangolfcourse.com Play an Event Courtesy of Danang Golf Club; courtesy of SriLankan Airlines No, I don’t mean a monthly medal or an 18-hole stableford – play in something that you need to travel to, a tournament held over multiple days, one ideally set in an exotic locale and featuring players of a decent – if not world-beating – standard. And, most importantly, go with friends. If you have a handicap of 18 or less there are numerous amateur tournaments staged across Asia that you can try. Why would you want to do this? Well the answer is pretty obvious: they combine great fun with the added spice of actually having to keep score, which leads to bragging rights to the victor of your group. Plus you’re sure to meet new chums along the way. The Danang Golf Club Championship in Vietnam is one such event. A 36-hole tournament played every April, the enjoyment 72 HK GOLFER・MAR 2015 derived from playing this glorious Greg Norman-designed course is one plus; the good humour and general bonhomie after you’ve handed in your card is another. They also dish out some great prizes. Other events in this category include the Angkor Amateur Open in Cambodia, which is staged over Nick Faldo’s manicured gem at Angkor Golf Resort in Siem Reap every August and the Hyatt Open in Hua Hin, Thailand, which is typically held at the very fine Banyan Golf Club in mid-July. dananggolfclub.com angkor-golf.com banyanthailand.com The par-5 10th hole at Danang Golf Club, home to the Danang Golf Championship, a fun twoday event held in April; the SriLankan Airlines' Air Taxi Service transports you from downtown Colombo up to the hills of Kandy in just 25 minutes HKGOLFER.COM



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