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Kunming – Asia’s new golf tourism hotspot

Kunming – Asia’s new golf tourism hotspot

Paul Myers

July 16th, 2013

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Hole 10 Stoneforest B course

Hole 10 Stoneforest B course

Kunming, China, July 15, 2013 — It may be no surprise that the new hot-spot for Asian golf tourism is in China, where participation in the sport is exploding. But perhaps not where you might expect.

More than 1200 kilometres west of the major southern cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Kunming – the so-called City of Eternal Spring – has become a year-round beacon for visiting golfers from China and internationally.

Already well known as the home of Spring City Golf and Lake Resort, with twin Lake and Mountain courses that opened in 1992, Kunming is on the verge of a golf explosion that is expected to more than double the current dozen courses in and around the city in the next three to five years.

The opening last June of China’s fourth-largest airport has been the catalyst for Kunming’s emergence as China’s golf tourism capital, but this is only part of the reason. The region’s near-perfect climate, many cultural and historical attractions and wonderful layouts designed by the world’s best golf course architects are causing in-the-know golfers to associate Kunming with great golf.

Appropriately, a new destination-marketing group, Kunming Golf (www.golf-kunming.com) has been launched to herald Kunming’s golf attractions on the world stage.

Two stunning 36-hole complexes – Sky Oasis Resort and Stoneforest International Country Club – both founding members of the Kunming Golf group, now complement Spring City’s acclaimed Jack Nicklaus and Robert Trent Jones Jnr layouts.

The three 36-hole complexes along with Honghe Spring near the city of Mile and another founding Kunming Golf group member – Brilliant Resort & Spa – offer a combined golf and relaxation experience few, if any, other Asian destinations can match.

By the time a raft of new courses with drawcard names including Nicklaus (yes, again – right next to Spring City), Mickelson (with two layouts near the new airport), Mission Hills and Sheshan (China’s top-ranked course in Shanghai) have all opened in the next 12-18 months, Kunming could be regarded as the leading golf destination in Asia.

Located 2000 metres above sea level and with the best year-round climate in China, Kunming has a bundle of history, culture, food and scenery to complement its outstanding golf.

The city’s history dates back almost 2800 years when it was first developed at the behest of a ruler in the Nanzhao Kingdom, based 320 kilometres further west at Dali. In the 14th century AD, Kunming replaced Dali as the capital of Yunnan, and today it is the province’s economic, cultural, transport, government and educational heart, as well as home to Yunnan’s 26 ethnic minorities.

Among its many attractions, Kunming is the winter home of millions of seagulls, which migrate from freezing Siberia in December and January, making a temporary home around the city’s majestic Green Lake.

Now the cawing of Kunming’s visiting seagulls is complemented by the ooing and aahing of visiting golfers as they marvel at what they find there.

First and foremost, Spring City remains the undisputed standard-bearer of Kunming golf. Its stature is confirmed by the lake course’s ranking by US Golf Digest as the number two layout in China behind the private member championship heavyweight course Sheshan in Shanghai.

Spring City was built when there were fewer than 100 courses in China. Despite unprecedented growth of golf, with more than 500 courses now in play, Robert Trent Jones Jnr’s lakes layout has been rated the number one or two course in the country for more than a decade. Its sister mountain course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is currently ranked number five.

US Golf Digest also places the lakes course as number 93 in its top 100 courses outside the United States.

The rankings are justified. The longer mountain course, which plays up to 7453 yards from the back tees, features great variety as it winds its way around the mountainside, while offering occasional glimpses of Lake Yang Zong Hai, above which the resort is built.

The slightly shorter (7201 yards from the tips) but tighter and more difficult Lake course is a totally different experience, with the lake almost always in sight. The terraced fairways of the first seven holes step gradually towards the lake until dramatically reaching the par-3 8th hole, which plays steeply downhill to the lake’s edge. The following par-5 9th, which plays along the lake shore, is among the best of all.

With Spring City’s two courses both in the top one percent of layouts in China, and always-exemplary course conditioning, it’s no wonder golf there is so revered. Over the next 18 months, the traditionally-styled clubhouse is being remodeled into a modern resort complex, with spa, new restaurants and support facilities. Thankfully, the golf courses will be untouched.

Until the opening in 2009 of Sky Oasis Golf Resort (originally called Skyait Golf Club), and in 2010 of Stoneforest International Country Club, Spring City was streets ahead of anything else in and around Kunming.

But not now. Sky Oasis’s twin wetlands and mountain layouts and Stoneforest’s A and B courses, designed by Schmidt-Curley, are more than worthy competitors.

Like Spring City, both are outside Kunming – Stoneforest about an hour’s drive south-west near the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Stone Forest Scenic Area, and Sky Oasis a two-hour drive north of the city.

The journeys are more than worthwhile. Sky Oasis, situated in a traditional rural area of Yunnan, is a complete surprise. Played mostly by Kunming locals, its appeal will undoubtedly grow as more foreign players hear about it. A new highway to Kunming, planned but not yet in construction, will also make a huge difference.

But the journey is well worthwhile. The lowland A Course plays through and around wetlands on the first nine, then rises to a pine-fringed mountainside on the homeward nine. Playing a little more than 7000 yards from the back tees, it is an enjoyable and highly playable experience.

The real challenge comes on the B Course, a mountain wonder that rises to a highland plateau where you can seemingly touch the sky. Billowing clouds sweep seemingly at arm’s length overhead and steep gorges drop to the Niuhan River far below. Sky Oasis is an ideal name.

Playing almost 7500 yards from the back tees and just short of 7000 yards from the blue tees, this is a tough test of golf with many long carries and fairways that, in places, are only 20-25 yards wide. Bring some balls with you to Sky Oasis, but be sure to play both courses – they are as good, and maybe tougher, than Spring City.

Another major attraction at Sky Oasis is the Eagle Hole, an extra par-3 shaped like an eagle that serves as a jackpot hole for visitors seeking to score a hole-in-one. The hole costs RMB200 (approx. MYR100) and has a jackpot starting at RMB200,000 (approx. MYR100,000) for a hole in one.

Stoneforest International Country Club is Kunming other golfing wonder. Set among karst limestone pillars of all shapes and sizes, this is a spectacular course that seems to have been transplanted from Arizona or Nevada.

Its twin 18-hole layouts designed by the US team of Schmidt-Curley, which designed all the Mission Hills courses in Guangdong and Hainan provinces, are nothing short of exceptional. The A course, playing 7241 yards from the black tees, has at least a dozen holes that will have golfers reaching for a camera before hitting a golf ball.

Among them, the 189-yard par-3 7th hole (see photo) that plays downhill to a green backed by a castle-like fortress of stone pillars, is one of the most scenic golf holes on the planet.

This hole is perhaps trumped by the 618-yard par-5 10th hole on the B course that climbs uphill (after a downhill tee shot) to huge battlement-like pillars, which assume a red colour in the setting sun.

Stoneforest is currently completing a hotel and villas, which will provide stay-and-play options. But the course is close enough to Kunming to enable a day trip – or ideally, a visit here should be combined with visits to Spring City and Brilliant Resort & Spa.

Meanwhile, Honghe Spring rates as one of the toughest courses in China. Steep elevation changes, jungle-like rough and sometimes narrow fairways through up challenges that are rarely experienced at other courses in Asia and elsewhere.

Visit www.golf-kunming.com for more information

Getting There

Kunming is serviced by direct flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other major cities in China, as well as from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Dubai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Seoul, Calcutta and Taipei.

Golf Packages

The Kunming Golf group www.golf-kunming.com has numerous stay and play packages including 5 days, 4-nights offers from RMB7760/person (approx. USD1220) that includes airport transfers, accommodation and golf green fees at its three member courses.

Spring City and Stoneforest have a combined 4-day/3-night package with two rounds at each course including welcome dinner, breakfasts and transfers for RMB8446 (approx. single occupancy or RMB6939 (approx. $US1122/person double occupancy.

A surcharge of RMB440 (approx. $US72 applies at weekends and public holidays and a surcharge of RMB980 (approx. $US158) applies in July/Aug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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