The new Mission Hills Resort at Haikou on China's Hainan Island, is an impressive 5-star golf facility built on black volcanic rock and boasting Asia's biggest Spa, a superb collection of restaurants and hotel suites, fantastic recreational amenities (including an extraordinary range of kid's activities) and 10 diverse golf courses designed by Brian Curley from the American firm of Schmidt & Curley. As with the first Mission Hills Resort in Shenzhen, delivering ten courses that offered golfers something unique and distinctive would be a stretch for any architect, but in Brian Curley the developer found a designer with an appetite for invention and creativity. Some features, holes and courses work better than others - but across the board at Mission Hills Haikou the shaping, construction and general golf terrain is a class above that found at the older resort.
On the Sandbelt Trails course, the designers chose to model their bunkering on the famous hazards within Australia’s Sandbelt region. Like the Melbourne courses, here the bunkers feature high flash sand faces, and sharp, curving lines but their positioning and placement is not at all like one would find down under. For a start too many traps are isolated and protrude uncomfortably from flat ground. Others fail to enhance the strategic element of a hole, nor challenge better players to flirt with them in order to gain a positional advantage.
The quality of the actual holes is much more important than how authentic the Sandbelt bunkering is, because with its tropical vegetation, lava rock formations and resort crowds this was never going to provide a true Sandbelt experience. On the positive side, the par threes are all very nice and some of the two-shot tests on the back nine work strategically from the tee and also provide exciting approach shot options. Biggest problem spots include the overly bunkered opening fairway, and the anti-strategic short par four 3rd, which is exciting to play for those who can drive the green, but a simple layback wedge for everyone else. Given the number of world-class short par fours on the Sandbelt, there is no doubt that this hole, and indeed the entire layout, would have benefitted from a more authentic and honest tribute to this great golf region. Sandbelt Trails doesn’t work as well as Lava Fields, Blackstone or The Vintage, but for those who have played these other courses it’s a nice backup option.