It wasn’t the limousine hotel pick up, the guard of honor upon my arrival or even the caddie for my clubs and the caddie for my camera. It wasn’t the ridiculously high service standards or the delicious ‘halfway house’ dumplings, which are actually served twice during the round. It wasn’t even the free polo shirt that’s apparently on the way. Last month Shanqin Bay became the first Chinese course in the Planet Golf World 100, purely and simply because it belongs there. Period.
Above - Shanqin Bay's showstopper, the mid-length par four 17th.
Designed by leading American course architect Bill Coore, Shanqin Bay is a tremendous experience and China’s first ‘great’ golf course. Coore has designed a number of World 100 layouts over the years, but none on land quite as demanding as this one. His first impressions when he saw the site were to question whether it was even possible to build a course there. The views of the South China Sea are spectacular, but Coore felt that sections of the property were too steep for sensible golf.
What elevates Shanqin Bay among the globe’s elite 100 is Coore’s ingenious routing scheme, along with the design and construction of some truly outstanding individual golf holes. Each of the par threes are tremendous, and varied with two pointing at the sea and two set inland amongst the tropical vegetation. The 3rd favors a chasing right-to-left mid-iron, the 11th a chasing left-to-right long-iron or wood while both the 8th and 14th demand a precise short-iron, one into a wide undulating target and the other up into a tight, tiered green. The only Asian course that comes close to matching the beauty and diversity of the par threes here is Hirono in Japan.
Above - First of the short holes, the delicious downhill 3rd
Above - The equally beautiful 8th
Above - The short, uphill 14th
The short par fours are an even bigger talking point, given the unusual composition of the final three holes. Both the 16th and 18th are drivable under favorable conditions, while the 17th measures 360 yards but plays downhill and right along the beach.
Above - The drivable downhill 16th
A number of longer holes also standout. The 5th is a real original and about the most un-Chinese hole imaginable. From within a cluster of old farming buildings, the drive heads diagonally across the main irrigation lake to a broad fairway that rewards golfers able to hug the water from the tee. The unconventional part is the green complex, which features all sorts of heaving undulation and is placed, Alps-style, blind beyond a gnarly bunkered ridge. While great fun to play, there is no doubt this hole will leave many locals scratching their head.
Above - At around 460 yards, the 15th is one of the strongest and best at Shanqin
Beyond the holes photographed above, there is quality all over Shanqin Bay and the only real disappointment is that so few golfers will ever get to play the course. Membership is strictly by invitation only, and believed to be in the US $1 million price range. Had it been more accessible this could have been a real game-changer for Chinese golf.
All photographs by Brian Morgan, courtesy of Shanqin Bay Golf Club