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China's Palm Island Resort has locals heading to the course, rain or shine

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
Palm Island Golf
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Palm Island Resort offers 27 holes of Nicklaus-designed golf. (Courtesy Palm Island Resort)

During U.S. President George W. Bush's recent visit to China, one could imagine that his meeting with Chinese leader Hu Jintao contained a great deal of Cold War rhetoric from both sides. But one can only be left to guess if Bush, an avid golfer, gave Jintao any tips on his golf game.

Over the last eon, more than 100 golf courses have opened in China, with the Chinese people showing a great enthusiasm for the game. Sometimes, maybe even too much enthusiasm.

"The golfers here will play in any type of weather conditions, I have never seen anything like it," said Palm Island Resort Director of Golf Shay Smart. "They even question when I close the course down because of lightning."

That love of golf can often be found displayed at Palm Island Resort, which features 27 Jack Nicklaus-designed holes. Located in the Hui Yang District in the East of Guangdong Province, Palm Island is 40 minutes from the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border. Okay, for most of us, it's about a 20-hour flight, followed by the 40-minute drive.

Featuring three separate nines - the Lychee, River and Lake courses - Palm Island's players are split between locals and foreigners (there's a community of expatriate workers from the Shell Oil Company nearby).

The Lychee and Lake courses mimic their names - Lychee trees surround the Lychee run, with water coming to play at the Lake Course on seven of its nine holes.

"The course is fairly flat but surrounded by water and framed with palm trees," said Smart, a USGA professional. "I would compare our course to a tropical course with rolling fairways protected by landscaped areas which always come into play on an errant shot."

The River Course combines elements from both the Lake and Lychee nines, in order to give the course "balance." In fact, Palm Island is based on this type of thinking, bringing ancient Chinese philosophies to their resort, as shown by their marketing:"Palm Island Resort is uniquely designed to uplift all your six senses for utmost sensory pleasures."

That "sense of place" that Palm Island conveys, along with the herbal teas and hard boiled eggs available at the snack bar are some of the things that will make foreigners remember they are golfing in China, as Palm Island deftly splices Chinese culture with the West's most revered golfing names in Nicklaus. And like most golf courses in China, caddies are mandatory, and usually an important part of the game, though also an added expense.

"The caddie service is completely different experience for they usually do everything for you on the golf course including keeping your score," Smart said. "Unfortunately, the Chinese golfer is developing poorly for they cannot adapt to courses where you have to make the decisions for themselves like club selection and getting your own distances."

Still, most Chinese golfers that play Palm Island are relative newcomers to the sport, so some leeway is to be expected.

"Cell phones are used a lot on courses over here, the culture in China relies heavily upon cell phones so you will see them used all the time causing a lot of distractions on the golf course," Smart said. "But golf is very young in China, so the golfer reflects that. It will just take time because golf is still very new here."

At its heart, however, Palm Island is a resort in every sense of the word and reaches out for travelers. This is where the true uplifting of senses takes place, from gourmet restaurants and waterfront villas to the oddly francophonic-sounding "Le Spa." The resort also has a 500,000-square-foot central garden, which enhances the tropical, Thailand feel to the establishment.

The Western phenomena of golf communities is also worked into Palm Island, which is run by one of Hong Kong's leading developers, New World China Land Ltd. There are currently 52 units of detached apartments and split-level villas available for private ownership.

And while China is the considered the largest communist regime on the globe, its "two systems, one government" reputation means they definitely understand and thrive with capitalism - the average comrade looking to play a round of golf on a Saturday or Sunday will have to fork over more than $175 for the privilege, which works out to about a month's salary for a white-collar worker in the region.

Members, however, get their golf for free, if you don't work in the $45,000 it costs for a membership. Still, the resort caters to the surrounding expatriate community, offering memberships for around $4,000 per year to expats. Guests to the resort will be looking at between $60-$100 per round.

For Smart, the main job has been to keep the course open for the golfers. After some rough times with course maintenance and poor usage of a large staff, Smart brought in a golf course consultant to smooth out the rough edges, and the course has flourished as a result.

"The important thing was to change the staff mentality that you can complete the job with less workers and less time where in the past the course relied on many laborers to get the job done," Smart said. "Our main focus is to keep the course open as many days as we can."

Now all he needs to do is convince the golf-hungry locals that in a semi-tropical environment like Guangdong, sometimes the golf course just has to be off-limits.

Fast fact

If you feel your chi is already in order, Palm Island also offers war-game styled paintball excursions.

Ifyou Go

Palm Island Resort
1 Golf Road, Hui
Yang District Guang
Dong Province, P.R.C.
Tel: 86 (752) 382-9999
Web site: www.piresort.com

More photos

Palm Island River CourseWaterfront Villas - Palm Island ResortPalm Island Member's Balcony

William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • shocking

    paul wrote on: Jul 14, 2011

    if you have played this course recently you will be shocked at how bad it has become. The greens have been re-built but are still very uneven and so slow. The tees have no grass on them, and the fairways have many soft areas on them. Do not play there until management have improved it


  • Palm Island

    derrick wrote on: Nov 27, 2010

    I agree 100% that the 3 courses are kept in poor condition, but recently there has been major renovation work done, and its looking better, but still way behind other golf clubs in China. I would not put Palm Island in the top 100


  • course conditions

    jack newby wrote on: Aug 26, 2009

    I played the course recently, and i was not impressed at all!! the greens were ok, but the tees and fairways were in poor condtion. There are much better courses in china