Golf Course Architecture: Issue 55 - January 2019

51 CH INA’ S LOST COURSES apparent good reason, which began to set off some red flags. “Our out-of-town client was planning to build some residential components nearby the golf course and became very uncomfortable with the Chinese government’s very unpredictable position on golf and any type of development associated with it. They decided instead not to gamble on what might happen to their plans for this project relating to the hotel and residences and instead sold the land to a local developer who felt they could gain total project approvals, and retained only a minority position. By this time, the central Chinese government officials became so anti- golf development, they chose not to open the golf – even though it was an approved facility. They redid their project master planning to eliminate golf altogether and just do real estate housing. To date, however, the golf course has been left to seed and no residential development has taken place. Who knows where this will go, but the golf course will not be a part of it.” The experience of Tom Doak shows just how capricious decision-making seems to have been. Doak and his crew, led by associate Eric Iverson, spent three years building a course on Simapo Island, in the delta of the Nandu River, near Haikou, the capital of Hainan Island. Hainan was at the very centre of golf development in China for a good number of years; the province, in the far south of the country, has warm winters and was envisaged by many as a tourist hub for Asian golfers, especially from Korea or Japan where winter weather is less conducive to golf. Tibetan monks practice a ritual of crafting intricate murals using colourful sand. These ‘Sand Mandalas’ can take weeks to create but, once finished, they are broken down, the sand is placed in a jar, wrapped in silk and released into a nearby river, representing the transitory nature of life. Several years ago, on the edge of the Gobi Desert, I played my part in a similar process of creation and destruction. I was only 26 and this was to be my first project as lead designer with Schmidt-Curley. I was living and working full time in China when a topo map with a dazzling display of contour lines came into the office. Right away I saw the potential and asked our team to track down site photos. Sure enough, it was a sandy site with 15-metre tall dunes: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Back in 2012, most new courses were built as a real estate amenity, more garden than golf course. Dalu Dunes was laid out among a treeless landscape of tumbling duneland and blowout bunkers. This would be the course that changed the Chinese perception of what a golf course can be. It had wide, undulating fairways to accommodate the year-round winds, blind shots, no rough, no water hazards, and it sported timeless design features like a punchbowl green set into a natural depression and fronted by a towering sand dune, fallaway greens and a treacherous Redan hole. This was real, inland links golf and it was going to be a test for the Chinese golfer, a test to see if they would embrace a course, a game, many of them have yet to see. In addition to working the sand with our hands, we pushed blades of earth in place and carved out hazards to create a course to last the test of time. But like the Buddhist monks of Tibet, the government of China decided after we finished our creation of sand that it too must be returned to nature. We didn’t have time for a ritual ceremony after completion; an opening day tee shot never took place. Instead, a group of workers put on a show, tilling the earth that was the eighteenth green, turned off the water, and walked away. Dalu Dunes featured on the cover of the July 2014 issue of Golf Course Architecture Sand creation Ryan Farrow describes the short life of Dalu Dunes LOST COURSE Photo: Ryan Farrow