Larger than life

Written by meraj shah | Updated: Aug 3 2014, 06:05am hrs
Over the past few years, the Mission Hills golf resort on the tiny South-east Asian island of Hainan has been making news. The resort has hosted the popular MH World Celebrity pro-am in which Hollywood headliners like Catherine Zeta Jones, and non-golfing sports stars including the likes of basketballer Yao Ming, and swimmer Michael Phelps, have taken part. And then The Match, which I wrote about in this column a few months backan annual matchplay duel between Tiger Woods and Rory Mc Ilroyhas catapulted Hainan on the international golfing stage. But MH Hainan is the younger and smaller sibling of its more famous counterpart in Shenzhen-Dongguan which has another 12 courses. And thatgiven Chinas penchant for superlativesis, not surprisingly, the biggest golfing facility in the world.

MH Shenzhen-Dongguan sits on the mainland, a short drive from Hong Kong sprawled across 20 kilometres of rolling hills and natural lakes outside Shenzhen. Its a little difficult to imagine a golfing spread of this magnitude unless youve been there. No less than 12 courses, designed by the most legendary players and golf designers in the contemporary game, make up this one-of-its-kind golf resort.

Most players make a beeline for the Jack Nicklaus-designed World Cup Course, so named for hosting the 41st World Cup of Golf (1995). Arguably the pick of all courses in both the MH resorts this course is widely hailed as one of Asias best golfing experiences.

Then theres three-time major winner Vijay Singhs layout which incorporates design cues from famous courses around the world. The Vijay Course showcases innovative design techniques, including the 150-yard beach bunker on the par-4 third hole, and the green complex at the par-5 10th, literally perched atop a rock wall. Jumbo, Ozaki, possibly the most talented Japanese player in history, and captain of the Asian squad for the Royal Trophy, has created a dramatic layout which winds through valley corridors and lakes. The Ozaki Course has wide fairways but strategic bunkering makes this course much tougher than it appears.

Indians are familiar with the Faldo CourseRashid Khan won his back-to-back Faldo Series Asia titles as an amateur here. The resorts only stadium course, it also features the only island green, at the par-3 16th. The Els Course, not surprisingly evokes images of courses in Ernie Els homesteadSouth Africa. Large swathes of manicured turf dominate at this course where, uniquely, no two holes run parallel to each other. The signature 4th hole is the best place for a photo-op: the tee is perched on the highest point on the course.

Those whore tired of playing round after round on 7,000-yard layouts can get a breather at the Zhang Lian Wei Course. Designed by the first Chinese golfer to play in the Augusta Masters, this is a replica par-3 course featuring some of the iconic holes from courses around the world. Watch out for the Postage Stamp, hole from Royal Troon and the Road Hole at St Andrews.

Long hitters will love the course designed by one of the longest and straightest drivers of all timeGreg Norman. The Norman Course is challenging to say the least: with narrow fairways surrounded by dense forest, dramatic mountain ridges and valleys.

Former ladies world number one golfer, Annika Sorenstam, designed her very first course at MH-Shenzhen-Dongguan.

The Annika Course is an interesting change from the bomb and gouge courses at the resort. With superlative views, dramatic elevation changes, and tricky greens, this is a strategist and shot-makers course.

Spanish legend Jose Maria Olazabals inaugural signature course is one of the clubs toughest tests. With extreme yardage (7,300 yards from the tips), no less than 151 deep bunkers (including 24 on the 15th hole), and penalising rough, this is an out-and-out championship layout. This is why the Olazabal Course has hosted the 2007, 2008 and 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup.

Top coach David Leadbetter is not known for golf-course design and his first foray here is devised to challenge and teach players without intimidating. The fairways are generous, the fairway bunkers flat and wide (and importantly visible from the elevated tees) and there are multiple risk-reward options. The Leadbetter Course makes the player pull out every club in the bag.

The only collaborative effort at the resortbetween English stars Justin Rose and Ian Poulteris a young golfers course: risk takers and flamboyant golfers with a penchant for living on the edge will find this course an absolute delight to play. The Rose-Poulter Course should be your choice for a no-holds-barred duel in your four-ball.

Language in China is an issue, especially if you want to step out of the Mission Hills premises and explore the neighbouring resort town of Shenzhen. And unless youre lucky to have a Mandarin speaker in your group, communication with caddies at the resort is difficult (the bagmen, however, are well trained, and you can rely on them for lines on the greens as well as for club selection).

Still, for consummate golfers, checking into a multi-course resort with so many championship layouts within a short drive of each other is heady stuff. Just for the sheer variety and convenience, Mission Hills-Shenzhen is in a league of their own and belies comparison with any golfing facility anywhere in the world.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game.