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.”
Above review roughly translated from Chinese to English as follows:
After the club changed hands to Ping An, a great reconstruction was done. Not only were the 18 greens rebuilt but also all the cart paths cleared. The only way to play is to drag the bag. This requires great courage in China.
When walking up to the blue tee of the first hole, you must first step on a sandy beach. This is to remind golfers to face up to the personality of the course. The 364-yard warm-up hole off the blue tees narrows at the 250-yard ball carry point, and there are dunes and long grass on the left and right. To some extent, it allows you to draw out the long iron tee shot to warm up, which is a little considerate.
After playing the first hole, I basically found several characteristics of this course: the fairways are undulating, one foot is high and the other is low; the fairway bunkers and mounds are fascinating; besides the tall fescue grass, there are native weeds in the long grass area and clusters of small bushes. The multi-layer greens are very undulating; the bunkers on the sides of the greens are steep; the wind blowing from the Yangtze River estuary is erratic.
The second par-4 hole is 463 yards, which is a full 100 yards longer. There are five par-4 holes over 410 yards long. The third par-five hole is 585 yards, long enough, right? It turns out that the blue tees on the course measure 6896 yards. Is this to make fun of Chinese men who like to stand on the blue tee to tee off?
After playing a game, I deeply realize that every hole is made in an appropriate style, and the consistency is quite good. It is important to not only avoid the bunkers and long grass, but also make the angle of attacking the green according to the flag. You must hit the level where the hole cup is, otherwise it is easy to make three putts.
The modern retro style of Lanhai Yangtze River combines the sand roads of the wasteland, the long grass of Scotland, the minimal bunkers, the undulating fairways of the links, and the fashionable green contours to create a perfect fit. The visual beauty and playing experience has been elevated to the top ranks in the world.
Of course, there are some soft and hard issues. Apart from hats and balls, the clubhouse does not have basic branded items for sale, such as logo jerseys, ball tags, bag tags, souvenirs, etc. Caddy management is a bit poor. No assessment of the difficulty of the course has been made. Of course these little things have no effect on the course itself. I think because of the natural nature of the course, there should be at least one hole that will surprise everyone, such as the Postage Stamp hole of Royal Troon, the short hole of No. 7 at Pebble Beach, and the short three-shot of No. 16 at Cabot Cliffs. People who know have learned a lot learn by word of mouth.
I played on this famous court right before the Lunar New Year came. It was my first time to play on a Links court and it was quite a unique experience. The bush and the open view on Chongming Island really reminded me of my time at Scotland.
Various sands were challenging if you get in one of them. Sometimes the best way to advance was to put the ball aside or even backwards. Links court was totally fun about trying not getting into sand and trying to get out if you get in. However, the fun might not be for everyone if you prefer playing in the middle woods or near the water or if you really get tired with the endless sand and bush along the way.
I played Yangtze Dunes on consecutive days with an excellent and energetic young lady caddy, Mickey, leading the way. I was told this exposed area produces different playing conditions on a daily basis as wind intensity fluctuates. It is cold here during the winter months, but golf is played almost every day.
What I found on the course was exciting and challenging – a treeless, true links course. Standing on the elevated first tee, I could see many of the holes rolling up and down on what was originally dead flat barren terrain. There were huge sand-and-scrub-strewn waste areas and natural-looking blowout bunkers, some of them massive. Brown, not green, was the theme. The fairways are very
generous in width, but very undulating with many mounds (a feature left over from the original design). There is no grass rough; the ball just tumbles into uneven sand and gnarly scrub when not rolling into one of the 124 formal bunkers. Dormant wispy fescue grass, which becomes particularly colorful in May and June, spread throughout the waste areas. The tops of some bunkers have thick tall furry grass similar to Royal County Down. You want to avoid this stuff at all cost.
I found Yangtze Dunes to be a thoughtfully-designed course with a great deal of variety and balance. An assortment of high and low shots were necessary. There is a mixture of raised greens and low-lying greens at fairway height. There were greens with no surrounding bunkers and others protected by deep bunkers. The greens varied in size from small to mammoth. Some of the green shapes were interesting, one being a punchbowl and another a boomerang. A few of the contours were toward the extreme but not ridiculous. There are considerable runoff areas at the edges of many greens. With firm surfaces on and around the greens, a lot of roll offs can occur, resulting in many chipping and pitching opportunities. The course was in excellent condition, especially considering new grass was only planted one year earlier. Water comes into play on just three holes. I found the course eminently walkable because of the compact routing allowed by the absence of real estate within the course.
Chinese golfers like difficult courses and prefer to play from the back tees. Yangtze Dunes certainly fits into the difficulty category. Good luck here at 7,484 yards par 72 and windy conditions. The day after I left, Brooks Koepka dropped by to test the course. The club is anxious to hold a significant PGA Tour event.
Overall, I think the OCCM guys did an exceptional job in a short period of time in transforming the course from a nice grass-covered parkland setting to an exciting true links appearance and playing characteristics. It is definitely a worthy candidate to be considered for inclusion in future magazine best courses lists.
I spent some time with the entire OCCM crew, and they are all great guys. The last day included breakfast and lunch with Geoff Ogilvy along with the two of us meeting with the Ping An top management (including Chairman Peter Ma). Geoff was the most personable professional golfer I have ever met; my time with him was very enjoyable.
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.