This October, the Mission Hill golf club on Hainan Island, China, is hosting a pro-am event, the Mission Hills Star Trophy, where celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Phelps are expected to attend and professional golfers can win a US$1.28-million top prize.
This is no ordinary golf club, though. The billion-dollar property currently boasts six courses (the plan is to build a total of 10), 525 hotel rooms, an adventure park, a man-made beach, and what has been described as maybe the world’s biggest collection of women aged 18 to 24, with 3,000 young female caddies currently living on-site.
Clubs like this show just how big the demand is now for golf in China. “In the coming years, maybe around 50 courses will be built [in Hainan]. We are building for that demand,” Kevin Chu, the vice-chairman of Mission Hills, told the Wall Street Journal.
But developers have taken big risks to build golf complexes in China, often to try to drive sales of adjoining luxury home developments. The Chinese government is opposed to golf, and has tried to clamp down on the rise on the game in the belief that it’s a hobby for the rich and gobbles up valuable land and water that should be used for agricultural production. After lifting a ban on golf in 1984, Beijing put a moratorium on course construction in 2004, and has ramped up anti-golf policing, fining companies that build illegal courses.
Last December, a government convoy arrived at the gate of the Anji King Valley Country Club, near Shanghai, and ripped up the fairways. The club was supposed to host the Ladies European Tour this October. Some say the destructive act was all for show: Shanghai-based journalist Dan Washburn reported that the King Valley club is still operating, and suggested that the raid was orchestrated simply to appease anti-golf officials in Beijing. But even with Beijing’s disapproval of the elite sport, it seems golf clubs like Mission Hill will continue to flourish as local governments team up with developers to lure a growing number of well-heeled Chinese duffers ready to tee off.