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​Top 50 Golf Courses of China 2018

06 December, 2017

Top 50 Golf Courses of China 2018

It’s hard to keep up nowadays with what’s going on in Chinese golfing circles. The days of reading the occasional press release about a new layout opening are largely gone, replaced by news of yet another course which has been told to shut down by the authorities. Even real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin’s Dalian Wanda Group was forced to halt operations at its Changbaishan resort in northeast China a couple of months ago, with the closure of both golf courses.

Of course, golf has long suffered under the ruling Communist Party, ever since it was prohibited by Chairman Mao in 1949. His successor, Deng Xiaoping eventually allowed Robert Trent Jones Jnr to build the first course at Shanghai Country Club in the late 1980s and by 2004 – despite golf’s “game for millionaires” tag – there were 174 courses in China. A decade further on, and there were reported to be more than a thousand golfing layouts spread around the nation.

Since Xi Jinping became General Secretary in 2013 – and for some years before, in actual fact – China’s rulers have been cracking down on golf, as it had become a very visible symbol of political corruption. Many courses had been built on valuable farmland or laid out in areas of drought or in places of natural beauty, and all of them were private, exclusive to businessmen who were alleged to be cutting deals with local government officials.

Dan Washburn in his book The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream comments on this situation: “People unfamiliar with the way China works often express confusion as to how a country can experience a golf course boom during a moratorium on golf course construction. Those who’ve spent more than five minutes in China do not suffer from such confusion.”

“In fact, the Chinese have several sayings for the disconnect that often exists between Beijing’s best intentions and how they’re interpreted — or simply ignored — out in the provinces," the author continues. One of those sayings is, "Where there are policies from above, there are counter-policies from below."

A recent report mentions the closure of 111 courses and the banning of construction on all new projects. It’s hardly any wonder then that US President Donald Trump’s visit to China last month was missing the almost obligatory game of golf with the nation’s leader – unlike the Japanese leg of the President’s Asian tour, when he played at Kasumigaseki Country Club with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and world number 5 Hideki Matsuyama.

And so, bearing in mind the volatility of the contemporary golf scene in the People’s Republic of China, we now present the latest revision of our ranking chart for that country. We’re immensely grateful to our China and Southern Asia correspondent Kimi Hoshiyama for helping to unravel the complexities of golf and politics behind the Great Wall, where the rules seem to change almost on a daily basis.

Three courses drop out of our new listings – including the former number 2, Stone Forest (Leaders Peak), which we featured in an article Crackdown on Golf in China earlier this year – and they are replaced with thirteen new layouts in a newly expanded Top 50 table.

Shanqin Bay on the east coast of Hainan Island retains the number 1 spot in our extended listing. The two most adventurous members of the Top 100 Team, globe trotters David Davis and Fergal O’Leary, have both visited this wonderful Coore and Crenshaw design in recent times. David described Shanqin as “the top of the bar, the best of the best, the perfection which all other resorts and courses are striving to reach” while Fergal commented : “to say it’s a unique experience to play here is the greatest understatement in the history of this game.” However, even the country's premier golf course is not safe. The “signature” 17th fairway at Shanqin Bay was recently planted with many hundreds of saplings because the government deemed it necessary to create a windbreak.

Five courses that were in the last edition of the Top 10 make positive upward moves.

At number 2, rising two places, we have the Lake course at Spring City in Kunming, one of five Robert Trent Jones Jnr layouts to feature in our new Chinese chart. Set out on the east shore of Yang Zonghai Lake, this course is the perfect complement to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Mountain course inside a fabulous resort which has garnered a countless number of awards since it first opened in the late 1990s.

Climbing four positions to number 4, the Dunes at Shenzhou Peninsula East course is part of a sensational 41-hole golf facility located on the southeast coast of Hainan Island. Both the 18-hole courses were designed by Tom Weiskopf and associate Phil Smith, with fairways occupying an old watermelon plantation. Thirteen holes on the East (1-6 and 12-18) and five on the West (14-18) make up the composite 18-hole championship layout that’s used for tournament play.

Advancing two places to number 5, Sheshan International lies southwest of Shanghai, where all but one of thirteen editions of the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament have been held since the event was inaugurated in 2005. Our correspondent Kimi played this Robin Nelson & Neil Haworth design a while back, remarking that “in order to score well on this course, a strong technique and decent course management is necessary ” – so, to use an old cliché, he’s saying “bring your ‘A’ game when playing here”.

The Blackstone course at Mission Hills on Hainan Island nudges up three spots to number 3. Host venue for the World Cup in 2011, the course is recognized as Schmidt-Curley Design’s flagship layout at a mammoth 10-course golf complex on Hainan Island. Set within a spectacular 350-acre property, the holes transition through a variety of woodland, jungle and wetland areas, with fairways capped over a bed of lava rock.

The Shanghai Links course (up two to number 7) is a Jack Nicklaus layout which our man Kimi has also visited. Unveiled in 1999, the course is a seaside track set out on flat terrain along the Yangtze River, where Kimi mentions the part that the wind can play out on the course: “Sometimes you may feel strong winds on the elevated tees but only a minor breeze on your second shot. Don’t let this fool you as strong winds are actually prevailing up in the air and you might end up with the wrong club selection.”

Another two courses make strong surges upward in the top half of the chart and they’re both designs from Mark Hollinger of the JMP Golf Design Group. The first of these is Jian Lake Blue Bay on Hainan Island (up ten to number 8) and the second layout is Anji King Valley in Zhejiang province (up twelve to number 21), where the Dongfest Nissan Teana Open was held in 2009, a year after the course debuted.

A handful of new entries leap into the new chart within the top half of the listings.

At number 9, the Mountain and Lake nines at Nanjing Zhongshan International form the premier 18-hole course at a tremendous 27-hole Gary Player-designed golf complex. Lan Hai Links course at number 17, where the fairways were fashioned by lead designer Jack Nicklaus II by dredging silt from the Yangtze River to shape the contours on a Chongming Island site and the Golden Bear’s son declared the design to be “probably the most I’ve stepped out on the edge of any golf course I’ve ever done”.

Neil Haworth’s outstanding A course at Genzon Golf Club (new at 19) hosted the 20th edition of the Volvo China Open in 2014 and it’s followed into the chart at number 20 by the Nicklaus Design Masters course at Lake Malaren, where the BMW Masters tournament was held in 2012, two years after it first opened for play. A little further back, Graham Marsh’s Suzhou Taihu, which has hosted several LET events in recent years, is new at number 23.

As always, we welcome feedback after publishing new national rankings so please feel free to let us know what you think of our new Top 50 for China. Have we included or left out a course in error? Maybe there’s a layout too high or too low in the chart? Whatever you’re thinking, please click the “Respond to this article” link at the bottom of the page if you’d like to share your opinion.


To view the complete detailed list of the Top 50 Golf Courses in China click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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