Set out across reclaimed land on Chongming Island in the estuary of the mighty Yangtze River, the two 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed layouts at Lanhai International Country Club (named Links and Forest) were first unveiled within twelve months of one another, starting in August of 2011.
Shortly after the Links course hosted its third edition of the Lanhai Open on the PGA Tour China professional circuit in 2016, new club owners decided to completely renovate the course and rebrand it as Yangtze Dunes.
Following a competitive tendering process, the design firm of Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking and Mead was selected to work with The Forward Group, a local management firm, and Landscapes Unlimited, the giant American construction company, to rework the property.
Eight kilometers of cart paths were removed, eighteen new sets of tees installed and several holes re-routed as part of the process to reduce the walking distances between holes. Blow-out bunkers and sandy waste areas were also introduced to enhance the link credentials of the course.
Ashley Mead, one of the design partners, had this to say about the project:
“Many of the greens and tees (on the old course) felt perched on the high points and a little disconnected from the dunes. So we’ve created eighteen entirely new green sites that give golfers the chance to play their way through the dunes, not across the top.
We thought the original golf course, despite the presence of several compelling links motifs (including some fairway contouring that was done very well, something we largely kept in place), didn’t represent the local environment.
Many of the finer details that make any course unique felt imported or manufactured. This appraisal (included) small things like flags and signage. This site was crying out for a natural experience and we’re very pleased Yangtze Dunes so strongly accentuates this place and culture now.
We were only going to change a handful of greens, but once we started building the first one, (we) decided to rebuild all of them. It was a critical moment for the client and the project. The green complexes are so much the better for it.
We’ve worked hard to create more dynamic, more rugged feature elements at Lanhai. This contour complements our feelings about green design. They are not just the place where people putt – greens are part and parcel of these larger contours that comprise the surrounds.”
The top spot in the Chinese rankings is now up for debate, as are the world rankings. Following the spectacular renovation in 2018 to renovate the Dunes course by Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead (OCCM), this was one of the best courses I’ve played all year.
I was truly grateful to play it twice with differing winds and pin locations. The introduction of mouth-watering sand dunes, waste areas, sprawling rugged bunkers using Bermuda fairways and Bent greens, make this place rise above its peers across the Continent.
It’s completely different than anything you’ll find in Asia; especially given how firm the course is kept. It’s not in a tropical climate, so at certain times of the year, the grass can get firm and fast releasing the ball up to 30 yards. The humps and bumps on the fairways are really a natural factor. The course has a magnificent sandy base that provided the catalyst for the designers to take the linksy route with their plans, and the results are sensational. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs are incomparable, and I offer huge congratulations to the team of architects who embarked on this project next to the Yangtze River.
The visuals from the elevated tees are stunning and there are countless numbers of natural features which serve as hazards to avoid. The collection of Par 3s in their current presentation are fabulous due to the backdrops and how they are framed by the dunes. I was just massively impressed with the place. No tee shot is straightforward and there is great emphasis on where the routing wants you to play to avoid the dunes and get the best bounce.
There are landforms across the course that are integrated into the shaping around the greens and will test the very best players while giving lots of fun options to play up the punchbowl slopes. The construction of the green sites and the beautifully maintained chipping aprons are spectacular, and I see this renovation on par with the dozen or so best renovations globally in recent years. We did discuss that the rough lining the fairways and around the bunkers easily allows you to advance the ball which is welcome.
While there is plenty of visual spectacle, the course is presented from a reasonable fair-minded perspective. You won’t lose balls or play slow. Pace of play is also another great asset of this course. It’s strictly walking only, and the caddy will walk next to you with your bag on a trolley. There is no back and forth to carts, and there is no ceremonious stopping for meals half way through your round. While there are appropriate facilitates around the course for refreshments, you oversee your pace of play and can keep moving! We played in 3 hours very comfortably as a two-ball including time to get drinks and take dozens of photographs. Same pace of play in the afternoon on a weekend. The course is free of cart paths and certainly plays like a firm links that will offer long term memories.
I absolutely loved it and had a complete blast seeing holes that truly impressed me without exception. This course has a more impressive mix of holes and topography than many of the courses that sadly linger on ranking lists. You’ll want to play it over and over as it’s great fun for all levels. It’s so well made, so well shaped and will hopefully be used for prominent events in the future. The club’s location is also unique given its position on Chongming, an island within the Yangtze River delta close to Shanghai.
I was there in May for three days and had the good fortune to play YD in the very different wind conditions. Blowing one way the first day, blowing exactly opposite the next day (so I was often hitting 3-4 clubs difference from the day before), and then remarkably calm the third day. Even Joey commented on how very rare that was. I was thoroughly was tested each day and enjoyed the strategy required for all three rounds. Yes, it's amazing what the renovation team did. Terrific.