At least according to this Bloomberg story:

Mission Hills Group, owner of the world’s largest golf club, will boost investment sixfold in a golfing complex on China’s Hainan island as the nation’s economic rebound spurs a tourism and property boom.

Mission Hills, based in Shenzhen, the southern city adjacent to Hong Kong, is to spend a further 25 billion yuan ($3.7 billion) by adding more golfing, retail and community facilities at its 5 billion-yuan club in Haikou, in the island’s north, Vice Chairman Ken Chu said in an interview in Hong Kong.

So that’s 30 billion yuan already, and it looks like that will cover less than half of what Mission Hills eventually has planned for its Hainan mega-complex. Further on in the story:

The Hainan club, built on top of a volcano, opened in March offering an initial six courses, according to company data. The group is operating it as a public, rather than a members-only, facility to attract more golfers, Chu said.

When fully completed, the Hainan club will feature 10 courses, according to the company, and will be similar in size to the Shenzhen complex, which spreads across 20 square kilometers (5,000 acres), or equivalent to the combined size of six Central Parks in New York City. The Hainan government, meanwhile, suggests on its website that the development may eventually have 30 courses.

OK, first let’s clear a couple things up:

  • Mission Hills is not “on top of a volcano.” That’s like saying my dad’s house in Honolulu is built on top of Diamond Head. Part of the Mission Hills land in Hainan is east of a 42-square-mile national geological park built around the crater of an extinct volcano. The Mission Hills land is home to lots and lots of lava rock, however.
  • The “30 courses” nugget is old news, and no longer accurate. It’s true that the English version of the Hainan Foreign Affairs Office website includes a story that says, “rumor has it that the project will feature upwards of 30 courses.” What Bloomberg does not mention is that the government website simply copied and pasted a story called “The Greening of Hainan” from the January 2010 issue of China International Business. That story, written by Al Campbell, was likely filed sometime in late 2009, long before Mission Hills admitted even having plans for a project in Hainan (that admission came just in time for the grand opening in March) and before Al had a chance to read my January exposé on Mission Hills Hainan for Financial Times Weekend Magazine, which stated the new estimate at around 22 courses. It’s true that 36 courses were originally planned, but a part of the land deal fell through and Mission Hills had to settle for only 31 square miles.
  • UPDATE: I forgot to comment on “operating it as a public, rather than a members-only.” Without knowing the greens fees Mission Hills is charging, this statement could be meaningless. Most “private” golf clubs in China still allow non-members to play — for a price. I’d be surprised, but pleasantly surprised, if Mission Hills Hainan offers anything near public course costs on any of its courses. Can anyone whose played there give us an idea of the fees?

What’s most jaw-dropping, to me at least, is that apparently the $4.4 billion is only enough to cover the development around the initial 10 courses. Add in those final 12 courses (currently delayed by — no surprise in China — land issues) and we could be looking at a total price tag of about $10 billion, a figure greater than the GDPs of at least 60 countries.

Near the end of the story we learn:

Since golf was added to the Olympics program in October, the number of people playing the game has risen to 5 million from 3 million, according to China Golf Association.

As the Wall Street Journal‘s Jamie Miyazaki recently discovered, trying to pin down an accurate number of golfers in China in no easy task. But here’s some advice, disregard any statistic that says China added 2 million golfers in seven monthsduring winter.

Finally, a note to people writing about golf in China: Mission Hills in Shenzhen is not “the world’s largest golf club.” From my FT piece:

For now, Mission Hills Shenzhen touts itself as the “World’s No. 1”, and Guinness World Records plays along, labelling the 20sq km, 12-course golf club the largest on the planet, even though Nanshan International Golf Club in north-eastern China has 63 more holes.

Although, if what I’ve heard of Nanshan is accurate, Mission Hills could easily be “the world’s largest quality golf club.”