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 by Golf Magazine. 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.
Having been one of the first guests ever to hit balls off the grass at the driving range (to the confusion of the golf staff), the theatrics continued to the first tee where multiple photographers get you to pose next to the famous rock which stands outside the 40,000-foot clubhouse. Note that they wanted the clubhouse to be twice that size, even though hardly anyone plays this course. It’s all so bizarre and then with about 40 people in uniforms standing around the first tee, you actually then get to start playing golf on the Bill Coore layout. I walked down the 1st fairway accompanied by the General Manager (wearing his 3-piece suit in 35 degrees Celsius) and other members of his staff to guide me around and give course guidance. 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. I was lost for words. This is not normal. I know many clubs in America promote “the experience”, but Shanqin Bay just takes the biscuit – and then some.
After the round, they’ve already made a framed photograph for you, engraved a personal message for you on a signed plate, hand-written a message on the club’s history book and given you full access to the pro-shop which has no cash register. The place is packed with employees with nothing to do; it’s farcical beyond description or imagination. But again, this is what they think golf is, and they are so proud of their property. To a visiting guest, you obviously go with the flow and show appreciation, but when there’s a guy standing to attention in the locker room waiting to put your shoes on and another guy to hold your towels, you have to take a step back and just wonder. All 194 of the employees live on the property in housing, so they don’t see the outside world all that much. You give up counting how many times you question what you’re looking at. Under no circumstances is anybody to conclude that I didn’t completely appreciate what they were doing for me, as you don’t get to feel like a King very often. It was just so different than the norm that it’s worth describing in detail what actually happened. 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 Golf Magazine 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!
So with all that said, 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.
I can see why Golf Magazine included it in its World 100 ranking, but wonder if the club will continue to get enough votes to justify its position on the list, as there are dozens of other candidates clipping at its heels. As I approached my limo to take me back to the airport, the “closing ceremony” began with employees taking my photograph, bowing at me, standing to attention and wishing me well. As you leave the gates, all that’s left to do is exhale really slowly and smile.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.
24 April 2014 Respond to this article