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The 12 wonders of Mission Hills Golf Club: Exploring China's world-famous golf mecca

By Mike Ives, Contributor

Some Westerners know Shenzhen, China, for its smokestacks and pollution. But cruise the outskirts of this frenzied industrial hub, and you'll discover Mission Hills Golf Club - which, according to Guinness World Records, is the world's "largest golf facility."

Mission Hills Golf Club - World Cup Course
Mission Hills landed on the international golf map in 1994, when Jack Nicklaus designed the World Cup Course.
Mission Hills Golf Club - World Cup CourseOmega Mission Hills World CupMission Hills Golf Club - Greg NormanMission Hills Golf ClubMission Hills Golf ClubMission Hills Golf Club

The biggest problem with a Mission Hills golf vacation is deciding where to start. A golfers' paradise just 30 minutes from Hong Kong, the Chinese club boasts 12 golf courses, four clubhouses and 51 tennis courts. Oh, and don't forget the posh restaurant, spa and five-star hotel. Fortunately for foreigners, many club staffers - Mission Hills employs more than 7,000 - speak English.

Mission Hills Golf Club landed on the international golf map in 1994, when Jack Nicklaus designed the club's signature World Cup Course. A who's-who of famous players, including Vijay Singh, Jumbo Ozaki, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam and Greg Norman, followed suit. In 2007 Pete Dye and Zhang Lianwei, who Mission Hills calls China's "godfather of golf," designed the final two golf courses. Building 216 holes required 180 million cubic meters of imported dirt - enough to fill Beijing's Olympic stadium 36 times.

Its empire complete, Mission Hills will host the OMEGA Mission Hills World Cup through 2018. Every November, PGA pros from 25 nations flock to Shenzhen for an Olympic-style showdown.

"Like the Olympics," says club owner Dr. David Chu, "the tournament will showcase China's continued transformation and rise to global sporting prominence."

Golf at Mission Hills

The 12 golf courses at Mission Hills - designed to honor China's 12-year horoscope - will challenge any golfer.

A World Cup signature hole sports a gorgeously serpentine Paspallum fairway; the "Vijay" course has a 150-yard beach bunker; and a double green on the 7,024-yard "Ozaki" borders water, sand and a dramatic cliff. The hilly "Norman" isn't as flashy, but its treacherous grasses demand precision. Four years ago, a Hong Kong-based Golf Digest affiliate gave Norman's creation an award for "Most Challenging Golf Course."

Frightened? Start your tour of Mission Hills Golf Club at Zhang Lianwei's par-3 course. It is nothing like your average pitch-and-putt. According to Mission Hills, Lianwei's quirky, 2,393-yard course is the first of its kind in China. What's more, the course features miniature versions of signature holes at St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and other famous courses. Lianwei has designed a creative testament to the club's rising international golf presence.

Playing golf at Mission Hills isn't cheap - expect to pay at least $250 for a round - but you'll get your money's worth.

When I played the World Cup Course, tee boxes, fairways and greens were impeccably manicured, and my caddie shared Chinese snacks and sound advice. Green-side at 18, I watched the sun sink behind a Shenzhen skyline; even while four-putting, I was too relaxed to feel frustrated. As my golfing partner, a Hong Kong businessman who plays Mission Hills twice a week, observed: "This is the place to play if you want to be comfortable."

Staying at Mission Hills

Mission Hills members and guests do not want for comfort. The five-star hotel's modernist lobby smells like orchids, and a hip piano lounge serves truffles and martinis. Hotel rooms, ranging from "Premiere Suite" ($685) to "Deluxe Room" ($187), offer views of Shenzhen and late-night putters. (Some Mission Hills golf courses stay open for night golf.) A restaurant, the "Imperial Court," serves such entrees as "roasted suckling pig," "stir-fried pigeon" and "Peking duck" for under $25. Sore? Masseuses will rub your driving muscles.

Mission Hills is also a launch pad for adventure. Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan city full of towering skyscrapers, is 30 minutes by shuttle bus and has restaurants and entertainment options for any budget. Casino-rich Macau, one hour by ferry, is a great place to test your poker face. For local color, visit nearby Guanlan Museum, host of the impressive Guanlan International Print Biennial, or head to downtown Shenzhen — a sprawling city of 8.5 million — for shopping, restaurants and night life.

Getting to Mission Hills Golf Club

Mission Hills runs a direct shuttle bus to Hong Kong every 20 minutes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and if you call ahead, a limo driver will meet you at the Hong Kong International Airport. Note, however, that you need a tourist visa to enter mainland China. Apply in your home country or at a Hong Kong travel agency.

A less-convenient option: Fly to Guangzhou, the nearest major city in mainland China, and take an hour-long commuter train to Dongguan. At the Dongguan train station, hail a half-hour taxi to Mission Hills (don't pay more than $15). Travelers flying into Guangzhou need to apply for a visa before leaving home.

Mission Hills Golf Club is open all year, but early fall and late winter are optimal times to visit. That's because spring and summer in southern China are hot and sticky, and from November through January, the world-famous club is packed with members, guests and giddy fans.

Mike Ives, Contributor

Mike Ives is a freelance writer based in Hanoi, Vietnam. A graduate of Middlebury College, he worked for two years as a staff writer for Seven Days, a weekly paper in Vermont, where he wrote about culture, literature, art, food and environmental issues. He spends a great deal of time writing travel/golf features and course reviews about golf destinations in Southeast Asia.

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