As she watches my first tee shot soar long and right, the caddie musters in broken English a word every golfer dreads: “Mulligan!” My 22-year-old companion, uniformed in a red jumpsuit and pith helmet, is a four-year veteran in the all-female army of 2,400 caddies at Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf club. Located in two cities, Shenzhen and Dongguan, the club stretches across 50 miles of hills and mountains about an hour’s drive north of Hong Kong. I am playing the resort’s World Cup Course, a Jack Nicklaus design that, although it opened only in 1994, is the oldest of Mission Hills’ 10 championship layouts.
In the 12 years since Nicklaus built World Cup, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam, Vijay Singh, and other professional golfers have designed courses at Mission Hills. The resort has played a significant role in popularizing golf in China, as has its sole proprietor, David Chu, a Hong Kong businessman who invested $400 million to begin developing Mission Hills in the early 1990s. Chu enlisted Nicklaus to build the first course, a feat that may have required some convincing: When approached in the late 1980s to design a course in Beijing, Nicklaus declined, asking, “Who the hell is ever going to play it?” Any such concerns he may have had about the Mission Hills project soon proved to be unfounded. Just a few months after its debut, the course hosted Tiger Woods and other pros during the 41st World Cup tournament in 1995.
Today, in addition to 10 courses, Mission Hills encompasses seven restaurants and a 315-room hotel, and Chu plans to open the world’s largest spa on the premises by the end of 2006. The resort is impressive on a grand scale, and yet little things, such as tees, can be in demand at Mission Hills.
Most upscale courses in the United States provide tees by the handful. Mission Hills offers no such conveniences. My rental bag, I discover on the first hole, likewise lacks supplies, and so I scrounge a single plastic tee from one of the three Taiwanese businessmen who round out my foursome. After taking my mulligan (I am overseas, after all), I have only two balls left. I therefore breathe a sigh of relief when I smack my second shot 270 yards down the fairway. We set out in two carts, with our four caddies riding on rear platforms like firefighters hanging on the back of a truck.
After struggling to play bogey golf on the front nine, I have one ball remaining at the turn. My drive on the 10th hole strays into trouble down the right side of the fairway, but, despite a warning sign depicting a striking cobra, my caddie heads into the brush with a rake and retrieves the ball. A few holes later, my tee shot flies out of bounds, and yet my caddie once again prevails: I lift her over a fence, and she grabs the ball from the yard of one of the many Mediterranean-style homes lining the course. Her familiarity with the terrain—and her persistence—helps me navigate a portion of Mission Hills’ vast landscape and complete one of the more enjoyable rounds of my life.
Mission Hills Golf Club