Perhaps because of its 115-year history, the Hong Kong Golf Club is one of a minority of golfing institutions in Asia that still very much feels more like a club than a commercial enterprise. The club's first course in Hong Kong was located in Happy Valley (now more famous for the horse-racing track) and its second was the nine hole course in Deepwater Bay on the South side of Hong Kong Island - a course that was only reachable by ferry before a regular road ran to the South Side. The 3,200 yard Deepwater Bay course is still very much in play and is somewhat of a secret pleasure for those who have the time or inclination to resist the siren call of lucre coming over the hill from Central and Causeway Bay.
The club's history at Fanling, where it maintains three courses, began with the completion of the Old Course in 1911. The location is now incongruous, being situated at the Northern end of Route 3, the Expressway that links a China border post at Lok Ma Chau with the world's busiest port at Kwai Chung. Despite being a short distance from a Hong Kong new town (Fanling) and the crazy Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen across the border, Hong Kong Golf Club has been able to maintain a certain atmosphere in its valley, an atmosphere which is more South England than South China. Indeed there is something reminiscent of Sunningdale, Walton Heath or St George’s Hill about the traditional elements of the club which extends to the layout of its courses and the nature of many of its holes.
The Composite Course at the Hong Kong Golf Club is not ordinarily playable in a single round. The members get a shot at it after the professionals complete their business at the Hong Kong Open – an Asian and European Tour accredited event. The Hong Kong Open has a long history at Fanling, having been held there since 1960. Past champions include Peter Thomson (1960, 1965 and 1967), Lu LiangHuan (1959 and 1974), Tom Watson (1992), Jose-Maria Olazabal (2001), Padraig Harrington (2003), Miguel Angel Jimenez (2005 & 2012) and Ian Poulter (2010).
Essentially the Composite Course tacks together ten holes from the 6,060-yard Eden Course and eight from the 6,531-yard New Course. The `New' Course predates the Eden by almost 40 years – having been finished in 1931 versus 1970 for the Eden. Despite its composite nature and the fact that it combines two courses that were built 40 years apart, the holes meld together well. There are no long walks between the holes - explained by the fact that the first nine holes are derived from the Eden and the next seven from the New.
The most recent format plays as a par 70 6,749-yard course with two regulation par fives converted into par fours for the professionals (the 468-yard first hole which is also the 1st on the Eden and the 474-yard 9th hole which is the 16th on the Eden). The course record is held by Hendrik Bjornstad who shot a blistering 61 in 2001. This eclipsed Nick Faldo's 62 which was shot during the first Johnnie Walker Classic in Asia in 1990 and is a spectacular achievement given that it was recorded well before the major improvements to `bat-and-ball' took place in the 1990s.Scoring in the Hong Kong Open of recent years reflects the advances of the professional game. Olazabal's 262 total in 2002 was 22 under the format that year, whereas Harrington's 269 in 2003 was a more modest 11 under. The four round record is 260 (level 65s) – Fredrik Jacobson's winning score in 2002.
Golfing here is very pleasing to the mind. Most shots both from the tee and the fairway are democratic enough not to penalise the golfer with a pronounced shape to his or her shots. The long par four 1st requires a shot across a corner to the green – although the professionals can consume this 468-yard hole with a drive and a six or even seven iron. The 2nd is a straight-away par three. The par five 3rd is not easily assailed in two and the lay-up requires a trade off between being narrow-sided on the left near the water hazard or bunkered on the right.
The 5th is again a straight away par three with bunkers that penalise the short right shot. The 6th starts a sequence of holes that run through trees that shape the holes very nicely. The three fairway bunkers on the 6th here can now be flown by a reasonably big hitter which is a shame. The 7th shapes very nicely for a draw but really rewards a conservative tee shot - no more than a fairway wood or long iron is needed to secure the right spot for the second on this 381-yard par four. The 8th is again a simple par three and then the 9th which on the card is a five but is played by the professionals as a four – which is just as well as a tee shot hugging the left tree line can slice the distances away here on a hole that measures 474 yards.
The above passage is an extract from The Finest Golf Courses of Asia and Australasia by James Spence. Reproduced with kind permission.
Hendrik Bjornstad's course record was beaten when Ian Poulter shot a second round 60 in the 2010 Hong Kong Open and despite being his lowest career score he finished disappointed. This was because Poulter was one shot away from European Tour nirvana. 59s had been scored on America’s PGA Tour and in lesser tours, but not in the entire European Tour history at that time.
The signature hole is the par 4 410-yard 18th. The fully-grown trees stand on both sides of the tight fairway. The approach shot is also demanding as it clears the water and the bunker in front of the green, shaped like a natural amphitheater. It’s not advantageous for long hitters on this demanding hole. When the drive is too long, the approach shot is played from a steep downhill lie. There was a miracle shot hit by Jose Maria Olazabal on this hole, which helped him win the 2001 Hong Kong Open by only one shot with a birdie on the last hole. His drive sliced into the thick rough close to the right edge of the fairway. Then, hitting from a downhill lie in the rough, he had 140 yards to the pin, making it hard to stop the ball onto the green. He needed to calculate the distance of flying and rolling. Moreover, there were big trees in front of him and even professional golfers might have found it difficult to fly over the trees. Luckily I was watching in front of him. When he hit the 9 iron shot and opened the face a lot, the ball not only went over the trees but also landed just 2 feet away from the pin, checked and stopped. This great shot showed top-class professional technique, and also his toughness of mind and concentration. He did it in a very important situation that would never come again. Kimi. To read more about the Eden course at Hong Kong Golf Club, click here to visit my website.