Tag Archives: Mission Hills China

Hillcrest Holes: As Remembered Or Not?

Bill Amick, as befits a recent winner of the American Society of Golf Course Architects’ Distinguished Service Award, wasted no time in responding to my post about 45th-ranked Hillcrest at Heartland GC.

You can’t know what a relief it is for me to read your latest blog with assuring evidence that the The Earlier Donald’s #9 green is being at least semi-restored at Hillcrest. I want to repeat what I’ve said to others about that course being truly outstanding. The way Ross utilized the rolling contours for great holes always made it a pleasure for me to visit. He seemed somewhat of a Picasso in that dirt.

Hillcrest's 14th green

The 14th at Kansas City’s Hillcrest: Who built the wall? (John Garrity)

But my closing question about Amick’s 1984 renovation work — How about it, Bill? Do you still have the blueprints? — left the Florida-based architect at a loss.

Certainly, I still have the plans for all the greens I redid there, just as I have all the course drawings I’ve ever prepared. They are safely in rolls in correctly-labeled slots. My only problem is that I have trouble remembering where the cabinets of those drawings are located. But that is no surprise, since after long flights from overseas I can hardly recall the city and house I live in.

I asked about Amick’s blueprints in the context of Hillcrest’s par-4 fifth hole, which I have come to admire for its understated difficulty and purity of form. But it was actually the par-3 fourteenth that made me want to rummage through his rolled-up construction drawings. That’s because my childhood memories of Hillcrest don’t include a water hazard.* Today’s Hillcrest, of course, has this very attractive water hole with reeds guarding the left side and a stone wall serving as a decorative bulkhead.

*My memories of some Hillcrest summers don’t even include water. Drought and a lack of fairway irrigation left some fairways as firm as sidewalks. I hit my first 300-yard drive when I was 12.

Amick didn’t need his drawings to confirm my memory of a waterless par 3.

Yes, I am to blame for the pond fronting and siding #14 green. But not the stone wall. I didn’t want to risk giving the great Ross indigestion, even in his grave.

Amick’s fourteenth, even with the mischievous masonry, is markedly superior to the original Ross par 3. Positioned as it was, well downhill from the clubhouse, Ross’s hole turned into a lake during downpours and was susceptible to erosion. Amick fixed that without changing the essential character of the hole. I’m sure Ross, after a hearty dinner in his grave, would approve.**

** “Within a couple of hours after fourteen was reopened from construction,” Amick recalled, “a member holed his tee shot there. Now that’s what I call proof of true reward over risk.”

Amick concluded with a plea to “please keep us sports fans informed about the new/old #9 green at Heartland GC. That should be another stone in the wall of progress for a great course.”

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Ian Poulter won the WGC HSBC Champions on the 51st-ranked Olazabal Course at Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China. The course is actually a Schmidt-Curley design, but the developers named it for the Spanish golfer because it’s fun to hear the Chinese pronounce “Olazabal.”

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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.

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