Birdies Over Beijing
Friday - 1 Oct 2010
Tee off at the Beijing International Golf Club
Great Golf in the Grand Capital
Around 15 years ago there was no problem remembering the number and location of the few golf courses in the Peopleís Republic of China. The ying of the two in the extreme south of the country - built to predominantly cater for golfers day tripping over from neighbouring Hong Kong - was almost balanced by the yang of the three in the north.
Two of the courses in the north of China were constructed to primarily serve diplomats and expat business people living in the Chinese capital of Beijing. In the days when golf was still somewhat of a novelty it was easy to secure high-ranking government officials to inaugurate a new course. For instance, Mr Zhao Ziyang, the then Acting Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party and Prime Minister officiated at ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Beijing Golf Club on May 23, 1987.
A number of the guests invited for the opening came from Japan because of the countryís involvement in the clubís creation and construction. This connection is seen in the Tokyo-based Pan Asia Corporation, the management company, and in the Kajima Corporation of Japan, the company that built the course. Though the Beijing Golf Club was originally envisaged to be patronised mainly by executives and tourists from Japan this isnít the case today. Hackers and hard hitters alike from virtually around the world regularly tee off on this par 72, 7101-yard championship course.
Though the Japanese were responsible for the project the American design team of J. Michael Poellot and Bradford L. Benz was entrusted with blue printing a thought provoking design over the 200-hectare site along the east bank of the Chaobai River.
The duo endeavoured to make the most of the plotís natural resources. Only gentle undulations were introduced to the prevailing flat terrain to add variety while stands of poplars, willow and acacias were left intact to add challenge. There were even instances where the direction of fairways had to be changed to ensure that the natural environment was the winner.
A good example of this preservation effort can be seen on the par 5, 560 yard 5th hole where large groves of mature trees line both sides of the Shenyang grassed fairways. In reading this hole, note that a fairway bunker positioned to the left of the landing area forces many players on their first shot to aim right. Beware, because ball-swallowing trees are on the right side of the fairway.
The second shot requires a tremendous effort to clear a sandy waste area on the left. If this is not an option try to avoid the two towering trees on the right before the green as they block a chip shot to the pin.
Farther on, the par 3, 15th hole canít claim to be the most difficult but it can rightfully boast of being the most beautiful. Virtually surrounded by trees and with a picture window view of the river behind the green, this 200-yard scene stealers ranks as the signature hole at the Beijing Golf Club.
The Beijing Golf Club has welcomed professional players for world class sporting competitions and casual golfers for social contests and so has the not-to-be-confused Beijing International Golf Club. The names are similar and both are well managed and highly popular, Japanese developed courses but there are differences.
Most noticeable are the mountains that donít come into the picture at the Beijing Golf Club. At the Beijing International Golf Club they do as the courseís sterling design is accented by the heavily forested Yan Shan and Tianshou Mountains. During the Volvo Tournament and the China Open, these jade green jewels back dropped the pros as they progressed around the par 72, 6991-yard course.
Golfers have been able to tee off on this veteran 100-hectare sports ground since September 1986. Today tourists can drive down its Kentucky Blue Grass fairways and putt across its Bent Grass greens but only on weekdays.
The par 5, 574 yard opening hole sets the tone at the Beijing International Golf Club as a large lake situated just before the bunker-girdled green forces golfers to make strategic decisions in shot placement. Water comes into play at this hole and on a dozen others while the course is riddled with out of bounds markers on many of its narrow fairways.
The par 4, 405-yard 7th hole is difficult for most players said Mr Zhang Ji-Guo, Deputy General Manager, Beijing International Golf Club. A pond that intrudes well into the fairway is easy enough to clear but about 250 yards out, he said, several trees bisect the playing field.
Just beyond the trees a creek cuts across the fairway at a slight angle. Once you have negotiated all these difficulties thereís still an uphill battle to a sloping green surrounded on three sides by bunkers.
At least thereís stunning mountain scenery to compensate for the sheer aggravation of this, the courseís number one index hole. Full marks go the experienced design team from Japan Golf Promotion Inc. for giving beauty to the beastliness of the 7th!
The 13th isnít much better and in some ways itís far worse. For instance, itís nearly 150 yards longer than the 7th and a large pond 250 yards out is an awkwardly placed obstacle. A tip is to control your first shot so it falls short of the water. More problems follow, as thereís an additional water hazard to the right of the fairway and sand to the left. The course is further complicated by a fairly dramatic dip midway between tee and green.
In addition to a stimulating mental trial the 13th alone will provide considerable physical exercise. During the long walk from tee to green, though, you might encounter rabbits rushing, porcupines passing and squirrels scampering across the fairway. As the Beijing International Golf Club is a solid 45 km drive from Beijing this course is one where golfers and animals can respectively play a round and around in rural China.