Golf Course Architecture magazine recently published a 2,600-word quote-packed story by Adam Lawrence that gives a nice overview of the whys and hows of China’s current boom in golf course development. Of course, no one seems to agree on what it all means or where it is all headed. Here’s how the story starts:

At any gathering of golf architects, one can generally divide the attendees into two categories: those who have a flourishing China-based business, and those who would like one. “Every third booth at the recent China golf show in Beijing seemed to be a golf course architect,” says American designer Dana Fry, who, like many of his colleagues, is currently spending a high proportion of his time in the country.

There are other markets – India, Brazil, Korea – where golf is being planned and built in quantities, but nowhere that can match China’s twin attributes of large-scale new wealth and a political environment that allows developers to get access to large chunks of land at a relatively low cost. The authoritarian nature of Chinese government means that projects, when they are greenlighted, can get going with remarkable speed, compared to the planning crawl so common elsewhere in the world – and this in a country with a well-publicised official moratorium on new golf course construction officially in place. …

Although there is no doubt the Chinese are taking to golf in increasing numbers – industry insiders report packed driving ranges all over the vast country – actual course development, at the moment, is only tangentially related to demand for golf. Rather, golf courses are a tool for land speculation, and a way for developers to hitch a ride on China’s booming housing market. As yet, there are very few courses in the country that are not tied either to housing or hotel projects.

A large chunk of the piece focuses on Hainan, specifically Mission Hills Hainan, by way of conversations with Mission Hills designer Brian Curley, of Schmidt-Curley Design. Curley provides some insight into how the Hainan project came to be — including the mountain they “whittled down” so they could blanket the lava rock landscape with soil — and the prospects for Hainan golf success in general. He is of the mind that Hainan “has legs.”

I have two minor quibbles with the Golf Course Architecture story. Namely this statement from the author:

Few in the industry doubt that Hainan has legs …

And this one:

Everyone in the golf industry has heard the projections of thirty million Chinese golfers within the next ten years, and few dismiss them out of hand …

Lots of people — especially those working in the golf industry on the island — have doubts about Hainan, and the 100 or so courses expected there in the coming years. Hainan is home to only two or three thousand golfers, so courses had better hope mainland golf tourists start arriving in droves (which, if I am not mistaken, would require the addition of a slew of flights between the mainland and the island and at least one airport expansion).

And I haven’t met anyone who takes the 30-million-golfer projections very seriously (realistic estimates put the present number of golfers in China at around 1 million).

But China has surprised us all before.