Shanghai is becoming a must-visit golfing destination as great courses are being built in the area to cater for not only visitors and Chinese members but also ex-pats who work in the numerous blue chip international companies based in the city.
Sheshan International Golf Club is the epitome of Shanghai and it’s an intoxicating blend of Chinese tradition and international modernity. The golf course was fashioned by the design firm Nelson & Haworth whose raison d'être is to develop “challenging and enjoyable golf courses that sit lightly on the land and often incorporate elements of local cultural significance.”
Sheshan Golf Club is set twenty minutes to the west of Shanghai centre and the course, which opened for play in 2004, has developed into one Shanghai’s premier layouts. Sheshan Mountain may be no more than a hill, but Nelson & Haworth moved mountains of earth to create Sheshan, 1.5 million cubic metres to be precise. The result is a dramatic 7,143-yard layout with numerous valleys, a deep rock quarry which comes into play on the 16th and 17th holes, and exciting elevation changes. Apparently, the classic Donald Ross-designed Oak Hill was the design inspiration.
The Sheshan clubhouse and surrounding villas have been designed in a Tuscan style and they are amongst some of the most expensive property in Shanghai.
In 2005, less than a year after the course opened, the HSBC Champions tournament was held at Sheshan, England’s David Howell won the inaugural event beating Tiger Woods by three shots. Korea’s Yang Yong-eun won in 2006 and Phil Mickelson claimed the 2007 title. Sergio Garcia edged out England’s Oliver Wilson in a play-off to win the 2008 event. This was the inaugural tournament of the new "Race to Dubai", a rebrand of the European Tour’s Order of Merit.
In 2009, the HSBC Champions tournament was given World Golf Championship status and Phil Mickelson held his nerve on the final hole at Sheshan to pip Ernie Els by a single shot. Els shot an impressive course record nine-under-par 63 in the final round but it was not enough to catch overnight leader Mickelson.
Focus for the 2010 event centred on the world number one spot after Lee Westwood put an end to Tiger Woods's 281-week reign in October. Both players were in action at Sheshan but it was Italian Francesco Molinari who held his nerve to win by one-shot from Lee Westwood. Tiger Woods finished twelve shots off the pace and without a single win during 2010.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer putted his way to victory in the 2011 event, holing every putt he lined up. Kaymer shot a final round 63, taking a mere 29 strokes on the back nine.
In 2012 the WGC-HSBC Champions event moved to the Olazabal course at Mission Hills in Dongguan, but the tournament returned to Sheshan in 2013 when Dustin Johnson lifted the title.
Bubba Watson won his first WGC title in dramatic style in the 2014 event at Sheshan, after the American holed from a bunker on the 72nd hole for an eagle, to force a play-off against South African Tim Clark, which Watson won at the first extra hole.
Russell Knox made history in 2015 becoming the first Scot to win a WGC event. The 30-year-old from Inverness beat a star-studded field to claim his maiden European Tour title in Shanghai.
History was again made in 2016 at Sheshan when Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian golfer to claim an individual WGC title and his seven-shot winning margin was also the largest in the history of the WGC – HSBC Champions. There was more excitement in 2017 when Justin Rose produced the biggest comeback of the season to win his second WGC title denying Dustin Johnson – who was six shots clear at the top of the leaderboard going into the final round. In 2018 Xander Schauffele edged Tony Finau in a play-off to win his first European Tour title. Schauffele almost retained the title in 2019, but was beaten by Rory McIlroy in a play-off.
I played the course the day after the final round of the Asian-Pacific Amateur Championship in a shotgun event, so it’s fitting to state how pristine the playing conditions were, especially given members from Augusta National and the R&A were playing the course on the same morning. The presentation was fit for a king.
The club has a busy four-week stretch hosting this illustrious Amateur event followed by the HSBC just a few weeks later. The grandstands were impressive, and the over-seeding of the course has bloomed at the right time. It is a 5-star experience from the minute you enter the clubhouse, and certainly an appropriate venue for big scale tournaments.
Sheshan International Golf Club is the first premier private golf club in Shanghai. Set amidst beautiful Italian Tuscan-designed architecture and forested landscaping, the club certainly offers a luxurious golfing experience.
While many of the holes on the course have a similar feel with a daunting set of bunkers protecting the big greens and most holes being lined with trees, the primary source of variety are the doglegs and the occasional body of water. Thankfully the topography has some change in elevation, and there is no shortage of uphill approach shots to test your distance control.
The routing doesn’t really have any straight holes, and often the scale of the land introduces some excellent angles off the tee. Some massive carries to get to the best spot in a dogleg on the longer holes accompany a set of par 3s that are no cakewalk either. The bunkers will catch you! It is a ball-strikers paradise with one difficult hole after the next. The layout is heavily watered and there isn’t much release on the soft fairways, but the rough will kill you as the ball disappears. The course is 15 years old, and we’re familiar from television with its design and highlights.
On the front nine, the best holes for me are #5 and #7. The 5th hole moves from left to right with an elevated green where only the top half of the flag is visible. It’s just really demanding and separates the boys from the men. The 7th is a short par 4 fraught with a gauntlet of bunkers and gives plenty of options off the tee. It was a welcome change from pounding the driver.
Much excitement builds when you reach the closing stretch. For me, the design variety of the very long swooping dogleg 15th with a raised green and the most animated putting surface on the course sets the stage.
Holes 16 and 17 are certainly the most memorable on the course given the magnificent (and deep) quarry that separates them with a river running through it. The 16th is a short drivable par 4 with endless danger from the quarry up the right-hand side that bends around the river. The small green requires precision like no other and club selection off the tee is a deal-breaker. The 17th is a heroic, and historically very difficult, par 3 back over the quarry that has ruined more scorecards than I care to count.
The drama of the long 18th hole with a green surrounded by water will challenge the very best of players to take a lot of risks. It’s the true crescendo and will always produce an exciting finish for amateurs and professionals.
Sheshan International Golf Club is a top-notch golf course built on a gentle rolling hill. The punctuating and undulating tree-lined fairways, raised greens, water hazards and bunkers are all strategically placed in order to maximize the challenge. In order to score well on this course, a strong technique and decent course management is necessary. Throughout the course there is a good mix of both easy and difficult holes, ranging from short to long. Right after the course was opened, the Sheshan Golf Club proudly hosted the 2005 & 2006 HSBC Champions in which Tiger Woods came to play. This really helped boost the course’s publicity. Unlike many of the golf courses in Shanghai, which are flat, this golf course moved a total of 2 million square yards of earth and sand in order to create its undulations.
The par 4 550-yard 2nd contains a sharp dogleg that bends towards the right. The tee shot is placed over a creek that guards the left side of the relatively narrow fairway. An accurate tee shot is necessary in order to avoid the row of six bunkers that are all lined up on the right side of the hole. In addition, the creek that is on the left hand side eventually leads into a lake that sits near the end of the hole. This will give the players some pressure on their second and third shorts.
The very short par 4 288-yard 16th is superb. The tee shot will hover over a body of water, bushes a large front bunker, and two back bunkers that are all strategically placed over the course of 250 yards. It is very tempting for long hitters to try to hit the green with one shot but players must be careful, as the green is small and surround by hazards. Therefore, at the tee ground, players must make a decision whether go for the green or a lay-up. It is said that Tiger Woods played this hole cleverly during the 2006 HSBC Champions. During his play, he used a number 3 wood club and managed to hit safely short left side of the green with easy one chip and one putt. One the other hand, Japanese Hideki Matsuyama ended up with a triple bogey on a 2014 tournament when his aggressive drive became a lost ball. The 212-yard par 3 requires you to hit your ball over a ravine. The bunkers that are placed on the left, right and back sections are something to look out for. Finally the green slopes sharply to the right so the player must aim accordingly to where the pin is located on that day. To read more about Sheshan International GC, click here to visit my website.