Known variously as Yunling Mountain and Yunling Golf & Spa Resort, the Yunling Golf Club is built on the opposite side of Yangzong Lake to the more established Spring City Resort outside of Kunming. It was the first new build golf course in Asia for American designer Rees Jones, and is set on an upland site overlooking the lake and with 600 feet of elevation change across the layout.
Although the views are terrific at Yunling, this was another really severe site in Yunnan Province and too steep for Jones to employ all of his usual penal tricks. There had to be width and bailouts in certain areas. The general formula endures, however, starting with an opening hole that is pure Rees Jones, a tight par four through bunkers that narrow the fairway and pinch the entrance to the green. It’s a common theme throughout the front nine, and is hard to get overly excited by holes that are so prescriptive as to force the golfer how to play the hole.
Thankfully there are some exceptions here that elevate the course above some of the designers other projects. The 3rd, for example, is a spectacular right bending par four that plays across and along a ravine and with glorious views of the lake in the background. The hole somewhat resembles the 7th at The California Club, except here there is more incentive to hit driver and the possibility under certain conditions to bite even more off from the tee.
Following this hole the terrain tumbles violently and getting from the 4th tee up to the 9th tee involves a series of steep drops, followed by cart rides back uphill or, in the case of the 8th, an almost unplayable uphill/sidehill torture test. The 5th green is a nice exception to the typical bunker-both-sides green complex that Rees Jones prefers, as is the par three 7th, although it's a long difficult hole that the average Chinese player will not be able to handle. The same is evidently true of the par four 6th, rising gently but with severe bunkering on both sides of the green and fairway.
Despite its very obvious difficulties, the front nine is nothing like as inappropriate for golf as the back, which is crazy steep in places, and crazy tight in others. Four holes, the 13th to 16th, play along the top of a hill and are not only exposed to the frequently high winds of the Yunnan Valley, but struggle for anything like the space needed for sensible golf. The 13th green is one of the best here, and a more subtle target than we can remember seeing on a modern Jones course, but then you play the 15th and 16th with almost no play room for the average amateur.
Prior to crossing into the hill, the 11th is a violently falling par four with a terraced fairway built to prevent balls, literally, rolling all 500 yards down and onto the green. From the 11th you drive straight back up a hill to then hit down to a green nestled beyond a dam and mere metres from the 11th green. The par three 12th has 11 tee boxes, a design feature best left uncommented upon.
Many of the routing difficulties and liberties taken by Jones and his designer Greg Muirhead are excused away by the notion that the Chinese take carts so long walks, or uphill drives, are irrelevant. While true, they showcase the biggest problem with golf in this part of Yunnan. The views are terrific and the lake is beautiful, but the terrain is too steep for sensible play and courses lack intimacy and flow between holes. They become a collection of wow moments and vistas, with little genuine golfing substance.
Yunling Mountain is certainly not the worst course Rees Jones has designed, but is only unique for those unfamiliar with either his portfolio and preference for penal over strategic design, or for those as yet unable to play better lakeside courses at Spring City and OCT Wind Valley.