Shanqin Bay - the red carpet treatment
Fergal visits the Far East and experiences Shanqin Bay on his quest to play the World Top 100
Shanqin Bay is the only golf course in China to be ranked in the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World. To say it’s a unique experience to play here is the greatest understatement in the history of this game… but not for obvious reasons.
Firstly, it’s a million dollars to join the club and they have 22 members. Since it opened 3 years ago, the club has had 30 VIP guests that have visited the property. Golf at Shanqin Bay is not like any other club on planet earth. You have to get permission from the Club Chairman in Beijing to visit the property.
You’re then met by 20+ individuals, all perfectly lined up in a row, ecstatic beyond words to welcome you. The caddies, the club manager, the membership director, the chef, the superintendent, the club director and a whole host of other employees are literally standing in a line like they’re waiting to glimpse royalty.
It’s a long way from how I nonchalantly drive to Portmarnock Golf Club, put my shoes on at the back of the car without anyone batting an eye-lid, and shuffle to the first tee with the tip of my cap. The welcome and hospitality is what the club strives for, as part of what they consider to be completely normal for golfers, namely 7-star customer service.
I know in Japan that they have a tradition to stop after 9 holes for a bite to eat, but at Shanqin Bay, they went 2 steps further than that. They have fully catered for eating dwellings after the 4th hole and again after the 12th hole. Apparently the members stop at each house for a full service hour-long meal while playing the course.
The staff were constantly aware of where you were, have been trained extremely well and couldn’t have been more professional with how they presented their mythical property. They have learned all of the World Top 100 Golf Courses in Chinese and English, so it was a treat to have my caddy say “Portmarnock Golf Club” in Cantonese to me when she saw my golf bag!
The golf course is sensational. They didn’t have indexes on the score card yet, but you quickly learn that you’re on a championship layout crafted out of land that was once used as a fort and still has remnants of army barracks, watch-out points and “great walls” that wind their way around the course. I loved the fact that those features were gently incorporated into the layout, including the inclusion and restoration of the old walls. In fact, if you see the club logo, there is a tunnel that runs from the 18th green under the clubhouse to the pro-shop. That same tunnel was used in war times and the opening of the tunnel now exists as the club logo. The constant change in elevation, tumbling fairways and trademark Coore/Crenshaw bunkering are outstanding. This property was found in 2004 when the owner was flying along in his helicopter around Hainan Island, and after years of negotiation, he finally convinced Coore to break ground.
You’re always playing uphill or downhill, avoiding vegetation, playing over lakes or enjoying glorious holes that play towards the Pacific Ocean. It’s remarkable that they were even able to construct a golf course on this property. For a club that I know will hardly ever get used, it ranked very highly in strategic value because you are not always hitting driver off the tee and accuracy is a premium. They have incorporated blind tee shots, blind approach shots, fine-tuned knowledge of the prevailing wind, large contoured greens, false fronts and a topology that hardly required a bull-dozer. I’m proud to say that I’ve played the course and can see that the architects created a routing that is highly commendable, yet seamlessly sacred at the same time.
The stand out holes for me on the front side were the par threes (3rd and 8th), the par fours (6th and 7th) and on the back side, the epic stretch from 15 through 17 will stand out as amongst the greatest Coore/Crenshaw holes I’ve ever seen. The elevated tee shot on 16 is the signature photograph on the property to the drivable 308-yard par four green surrounded by devilishly placed bunkers. The tee shot on 17 is breath-taking along the shoreline to one of the most pitched fairways that Shanqin Bay has to offer.
Article written by our US Consultant, Fergal O'Leary, who continues his mission to become the youngest person to play the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.
Click to read more about Shanqin Bay