“The China Syndrome”: My latest piece for Golf World

Golf World magazine, Sept. 13, 2010

A visit to a construction site along golf’s next frontier reveals a country where course building is both banned and booming — and where hope competes with fear every day

Golf World, Sept. 13, 2010

The man wearing a tank top and surfing shorts would normally have been busy shaping a golf hole, but on this day, with a bag of clubs slung over one shoulder, he spent the afternoon playing some of his recent creations. This wasn’t an off day—he just had nothing else to do. “Dozer is down again,” he says with a shrug.

Nearly three years into his first course in China, this veteran American shaper (those are the guys who mold the earth and turn the architect’s drawings into reality) has come to expect delays, the same snags that bedevil projects throughout the fast-developing country. A broken bulldozer is just the start. Progress has been stalled by everything from typhoons to temples. And lingering land disputes continue to render five holes off-limits to the construction team.

“We were originally going to be here a year,” the shaper says. “That was a while ago.”

There are, however, worse places to kill time than Hainan, China’s tropical island paradise in the South China Sea. And increasingly for professionals in the struggling world of golf course construction, if you aren’t working in Hainan or somewhere else in China, you probably aren’t working.

Fewer than 50 new courses opened in the United States last year, according to the National Golf Foundation. Compare that to China, where an estimated 250 courses are currently under construction and about 600 more are in various planning stages. Simply put, China—where golf was banned until 1984—is propping up the entire golf course industry, and being able to maneuver through the country’s minefield of challenges is fast becoming the key to professional survival. Of course, figuring out China is never easy. This may be the only country in the midst of a golf boom. But it’s also a place where new courses remain technically illegal. …

To read the rest of the story, you’ll have to use the PDF found below. In an effort to continue to sell magazines, Golf World only puts a handful of stories from each issue online. Mine was not one of them this time around.