Tag Archives: Chung Shan Hot Spring

China’s Best: Lost in Translation?

Sunset Photo, Mission Hills China

The 7th on the Sorenstam course, Mission Hills, China

“Here’s an idea for a new Top 50 list,” writes the 14-handicap owner of a restaurant on Spring Street in NYC. “You could rank the world’s Mission Hills courses. I mean, there must be a thousand of them.”

A thousand? Well, maybe — if you count “Mission Hills Labradoodles,” one of the Google options that popped up as I typed “Mission Hills” into the search box. (“We are a small breeder of Australian Labradoodles located in the heart of America,” reads their home page. “Our goal at Mission Hills Labradoodles is to raise top quality dogs that will be a joy and an asset to your home and family.”)

Add the word “golf” or “country club” and you narrow the search to a few dozen courses from Texas to Thailand. There is a Packard & Packard-designed Mission Hills C.C. in Northbrook, Ill. and an Al Watrous-designed Mission Hills G.C. in Plymouth, Mich. There is an admirable Mission Hills C.C. about a mile from the Top 50’s Kansas City headquarters. (Situated in the aptly named town of Fairway, Ks., this Mission Hills track was laid out by Tom Bendelow, the Johnny Appleseed of American golf. Bendelow is best remembered for Medinah Country Club No. 3, site of next year’s Ryder Cup.)

If we were to create a Mission Hills list — and all that’s holding us back is a lack of outside funding — the top spot would have to go to the one Mission Hills layout that is already in the Top 50. That would be Desmond Muirhead’s 44th-ranked Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., permanent site of the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Championship.

But given our correspondent’s Chinatown address, I’m guessing that she’s carrying water (or oolong tea) for the Mission Hills Golf Club of Shenzhen, China. A resort complex that is roughly the size of Delaware, China’s Mission Hills has the largest tennis center in Asia (51 courts and a 3,000-seat stadium court), several golf academies, four clubhouses, four spas, a convention center, a 5-star hotel, and no less than a dozen courses designed by the likes of Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Annika Sorenstam. Mission Hills is so big that it isn’t content hosting the Asian Amateur Championship and the occasional World Cup. It sponsors football matches between world-class teams such as FC Barcelona and, uh … opponents of FC Barcelona.

Photo of Olazabal course, Mission Hills China

The 3rd at the Olazabal Course, Mission Hills, China

The helmsman of this golfing supertanker is Tenniel Chu, executive director of Mission Hills Properties Holdings Ltd…, a really big outfit. “Golf is the fastest growing sport in China,” Mr. Chu told me at this year’s Masters, where I chatted up a number of international golf titans before playing second-ranked Augusta National Golf Club as a guest.* “By 2020,” Mr. Chu continued, “China will have the world’s largest population of golfers.”

*I am not a member of either club, although I would never rule out a future alliance.

It is not lost on me that China, with a population of roughly 1.3 billion souls, might have a golf course worthy of a Top 50 ranking. Unfortunately, our Chinese course-raters/calligraphers submit their reports in the 50-year-old simplified Chinese character system employing the common caoshu shorthand variants, while our Cal Tech analysts read only traditional Chinese characters, which use standardized forms dating to the Han dynasty. That has led to some anomalous results, including the counter-intuitive ranking of the aqua-range at the Chung Shan Hot Spring Resort at No. 64, ahead of the world-renowned Pine Valley Golf Club of southern New Jersey.

We’ve got our best minds working on this problem. In the meantime, we’re provisionally ranking the Mission Hills Shenzhen complex — all twelve courses, including the Zhang Lianwei-designed par-3 course — as No. 1 in China.

2 Comments

Filed under golf

Florida Aqua-Range Gets Late Nod

Gary Van Sickle is fashionably late with his vote for best aqua-range, but the Top 50 never closes. So now … a man who needs no introduction … except, of course, to say that he’s a veteran senior writer at Sports Illustrated, the top print golf analyst east of the Rio Grande, and father of first-year tour pro Mike Van Sickle.

“Don’t recall the aqua-range question,” Gary writes. “Can’t be an age thing. What’s your name again, young feller? Only one I can recall is Imperial Lakewoods (formerly Imperial Lakes)* in Palmetto, Fla., just outside Bradenton.”

*Coincidentally, the scientists at Catch Basin are putting together a ranking of golf courses that have changed names, whether due to bankruptcy, renovation, change of ownership or an understandable lapse of memory, given the owner’s age. For example, A. W. Tillinghast’s Swope Memorial Golf Course, No. 45, is the golf course formerly known as Swope No. 1, while its cross-park 9-hole counterpart, currently called the Heart of America Golf Course (but billed as the Blue River Golf Course in my soon-to-be-revived classic, America’s Worst Golf Courses), was Swope No. 2. Other famous courses, although they try to hide the fact, have not always gone by their current names — e.g., Seminole Golf Club (formerly Barracuda Dunes Resort), Pebble Beach Golf Links (briefly known as Otter Play Golf Club) and The Country Club at Brookline (aka Boston Blackie’s Suburban Pitch ‘n’ Putt).

“Imperial Lakes was the first course Mike Van Sickle was on,” Gary continues. “He traversed the course as a baby in a snuggy, carried by Betsy, while I played with my folks. Mike actually has a photo of himself as a 3- or 4-year old hitting balls into the water on the Imperial Lakes range. I’m suitably attired in pink shirt, light blue shorts and a St. Andrews Hogan-style cap.”*

*The Top 50 is making every effort to obtain this photograph.

“So I’d rate Imperial Lakes No. 1,” Gary concludes. “I can’t think of any others I’ve played.”

(Mike’s father adds this gratuitous post script: “Your website needs traffic. I make wisecracks, and nothing. No replies. It’s deader than a thing that’s not alive.”)

Chantilly Aqua Range

Dolce Chantilly is still No. 1 (John Garrity)

Van Sickle’s endorsement is no threat to the current No. 1 aqua-range, the tree-lined stunner at the Dolce Chantilly Golf Club and Hotel in Chantilly, France. But I’m slipping Imperial Woodlakes Golf Club (or whatever it’s called) into the third spot, behind Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club of Guangdong Province, China.

Addendum: Some readers have detected a certain volatility in our recent rankings, which — along with a handful of minor errors, which we have promptly corrected and apologized for — have led some to question the scientific underpinnings of the the Top 50. “You no longer mention Professor Eppes and the Cal Sci algorithm,” writes one worried technophile. “Are you flying solo?”

Answer: No! The Top 50 is still the leader in empirically-derived golf course evaluation, and nothing that happens in some musty California classroom is going to change that. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I am more or less obliged to report that Professor Charles Eppes recently eloped with some raven-haired bimbo and fled to England. Charlie is currently teaching at Foxent College, Oxford, not far from Wentworth Golf Club, No. 84. In his absence, the Cal Sci algorithm is being steered by a total math geek who knows absolutely nothing about golf.

This is, I am told, a temporary situation. But until the Cal Sci Board of Regents can find a qualified replacement, we at Catch Basin will have to soldier on with our nimble minds, flexible fingers and one very overworked Bomar Brain. In the meantime, we sincerely regret any inconvenience.

Leave a comment

Filed under golf

The Aqua-Range: Proof of Greatness?

I am often asked if a golf course gains or loses Top 50 points for tangential or peripheral attributes. “Does free wi-fi in the men’s locker room make a difference?” asks a housewife from Kansas City, Mo. “Do you deduct points for a greenkeeper who plays polka music at ear-splitting volumes in the maintenance shed?” asks a 28-handicapper, also from Kansas City.

To the first question, the answer is a resounding no. The presence or absence of clubhouse filigree has no bearing on the merits of an architect’s design or the quality of a course’s upkeep.

To the second question, the answer is also no.  The Top 50 algorithm adds points for boisterous greenkeepers.*  (Shyness and quietude, although desirable in a librarian, are red flags when you’re hiring a course superintendent. It’s the mousy guy who is out at dawn, spreading fertilizer in the rough and mowing greens until they’re unputtable.)

*I use the term “greenkeeper” because that’s what the first greenkeeper, Old Tom Morris, called himself. He was “the keeper of the [town] green” at Prestwick, Scotland, and later at St. Andrews, in addition to his golf professional duties. Modern-day pedants insist that the term is “greenskeeper” because there are nine or more greens on a golf course. I, for one, am not going to lose a minute’s sleep over the distinction.

To the larger question, I reply: “Hell, yes!” A course ranking system is only as good as the data fed into it, and my Top 50 taps into more data streams than the other six major surveys combined. Do the Golf Digest raters count the ball washers on a course? No, they simply assume that there will be one on every hole. Do Golfweek’s experts make a distinction between curbed and curbless cart paths? I think not. And when these self-styled critics attempt to factor in the intangibles, they invariably get it wrong. Golf Magazine’s raters, for instance, will not give Top 100 status to a course that offers an aqua range.

Chantilly Aqua Range

Safety is paramount at the Dolce Chantilly Golf Club, north of Paris.

How do you account for such obstinacy? Personally, I fell in love with aqua ranges during my “Mats Only” period, when I spent a lot of time working on my golf game. Contrary to what my swing gurus told me — that hitting hundreds of floaters into a pond would train me to hit balls into water hazards during actual rounds — I found that the aqua range desensitized me to the distant plunk or sploosh of a ball landing in water.  Over time, I lost my fear of water hazards and lowered my handicap by nine or ten strokes.

My favorite aqua ranges? I’d give the nod to the tree-lined water range at the Dolce Chantilly Golf Club and Hotel, just north of Paris, France. Second place goes to the Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club in Guangdong Province, China, where the surrounding mountains look so fetching in the reflected waters of the club’s target pond. (After a good practice session, hundreds of floater balls bob like corks in the murky water — a sight as beautiful as any algal bloom.)

P.S. Assuming that we can get the possum out of the basement without calling an exterminator, the new Top 50 list will be posted on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

4 Comments

Filed under golf