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Olazabal course to stage Mission Hills World Cup

25 November, 2008

Olazabal course to stage Mission Hills World Cup

25th November 2008

The Olazabal Course is one of the top courses at the Mission Hills Golf Resort

DONGGUAN, China – If you think a sleepy fishing village could grow into a city of nearly nine million in less than 30 years, then you are probably also inclined to believe that a two-time Masters champion could come to a suburb of that same city, take a hilly piece of jungle property that only Gilligan, Tarzan or Robinson Crusoe could love and design a championship golf course.

Just as the metropolitan area of Shenzhen left its fishing roots behind and grew into one of the largest cities in southern China, Jose Maria Olazabal arrived in southern China in 2001, heard the words "turn this into a golf course" and actually did just that.

As the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup stages its third event at the club -- and the second at the course Olazabal designed -- the 28 teams this week will play on a pristine, mature course that doesn't look anything like it did when Olazabal went to work seven years ago.

Last week, Olazabal took time away from playing in the UBS Hong Kong Open to talk about the course 50 minutes (by car) from where he was sitting, sounding somewhat amazed at what he created. "You wouldn't have imagined that building a golf course there would have been possible," Olazabal, the winner of the 1994 and 1999 Masters, said. "It was so hilly, and they had to remove so much dirt to be able to design the course. It was quite impressive."

When the course opened in 2003, what Olazabal helped create -- in conjunction with Schmidt-Curley Design -- was the longest of the 12 courses that make up Mission Hills. The par-72 layout is 7,320 yards and offers a finishing hole, a dogleg-left, par 4 that measures 460 yards. Think of the 18th at TPC Sawgrass PLAYERS Stadium Course, only longer and with a much smaller green. It's a hole Wales' Bradley Dredge likes.

"They've created a lot of drama with a great closing hole," said Dredge, who teamed with Stephen Dodd to win the 2005 World Cup in Portugal and is paired with 2007 Nationwide Tour Player of the Year Richard Johnson this week. "You have to stand there on the tee and put a swing on it. That's the way it should be."

"I think it's a solid golf course," Olazabal understated. The International Federation of PGA Tours apparently agrees. Mission Hills Golf Club is the permanent home of this event, through 2018. Besides Olazabal, other designers who did work at Mission Hills' 13-square-mile complex include the last-names-you've-probably-heard-of group which features Nicklaus, Sorenstam, Norman, Els, Singh and Faldo.

What the World Cup teams will find at the Olazabal Course this week is what its architect calls "a fair golf course." He points to design elements he had to implement because of the dense, tree-filled landscape of the Da Ping Zhang Forest he first encountered. In the beginning, a machete would have come in handier for short-game master-cum-designer Olazabal than his trusty 60-degree wedge.

"Because of the terrain, I didn't want to have any blind tee shots or things like that," Olazabal said. "So somehow I managed to find those elevations for the tees, and you can have a pretty good view of the fairway when you are standing on the tee."

"This is a unique place," Dredge said. "They literally carved it out of the jungle. When I first saw the course, I thought it was quite hilly in places, but after playing it I realized it's not as hilly as it looks."

Dredge is right, if you ignore the 300-foot elevation change from the clubhouse to the first tee. Once there, though, the view of the surrounding countryside is spectacular.

While Olazabal is not playing this week, his home country of Spain will be represented by Miguel Angel Jimenez and Pablo Larrazabal. Jimenez knows the course well, having played for Spain last year (tying for 13th with partner Jose Manuel Lara). Larrazabal is making his first World Cup appearance.

"We'll do fine. It's a nice golf course, and it's always nice to have a fresh guy to play with," said Jimenez of Larrazabal. "We'll play some golf and make some putts. Nothing too terribly difficult; just golf."

Mission Hills and Olazabal wouldn't have it any other way.

By Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff


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