Sorry I’m a little late on this, but I am, ironically, on assignment in Hainan. Yesterday, the Asian Tour announced and then the AP followed with news that golf’s World Cup is changing homes, and in 2011 will move from Mission Hills in Shenzhen to the new Mission Hills mega-complex on Hainan. There will be no World Cup this year, and the event will continue as a biennial tournament, occurring on odd years, so as not to conflict with Olympic golf, which starts in 2016. The change of locations is not really a surprise — I told you it might happen in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine and Foreign Policy — but this does represent, as far as I know, the first admission in the media that Mission Hills Hainan is more than myth. If you recall, last year Mission Hills vice chairman Ken Chu denied its existence to me prior to my Hainan trip for the FT story.

Some quick takeaways before I leave my hotel:

  • Prize money will go up from US$5.5 million to US$7.5 million (but with the way the dollar is tanking against the yuan, those might end up being the same next year).
  • We learn the official name of what I’ve been referring to as the “tournament course”: Blackstone, named for the dark lava rock that can be seen throughout the layout (UPDATE: Or could these guys be investors?). Here’s the press release’s description:

    The Omega Mission Hills World Cup will be hosted on the Blackstone course, a spectacular, 350-acre layout that weaves through a striking landscape of mature trees, expansive wetlands, ancient town ruins and ever-present lava rock, the 7,777-yard Blackstone features a myriad of risk / reward opportunities throughout the back nine. The course is set in front of the 525-room 5-star resort complex and the 238,000 square-feet clubhouse, making it ideal for hosting the world’s foremost golf tournaments.

    Here’s how I described it in the FT:

    The tournament course is stunning. With its irregular lines and eroded sand traps, it manages to appear rugged and natural, even though there is little natural about it. Incorporated into the design are old, overgrown lava-rock walls and archways left over from the land’s previous occupants, along with some mature lychee, ficus and acacia trees that managed to elude the clear-cutter. The result is a landscape that looks like it has been there for decades, maybe centuries, not months. A drive along the cart path, made from crushed lava rock, has the flavour of a Jurassic safari – that is, until you see the massive hotel and clubhouse looming on the horizon.

    It is all remarkably telegenic, and by design. The talk is that in 2011 the Mission Hills Hainan tournament course will become the new location for either golf’s Omega-sponsored World Cup, currently a fixture at Mission Hills Shenzhen, or of the HSBC Champions, the tournament dubbed “Asia’s Major”.

  • What I’ve been referring to as Mission Hills Hainan is now officially called “Mission Hills Resort Hainan,” so I was close. Here’s the boilerplate description:

    Mission Hills Resort Hainan lies on the volcanic region of exotic Hainan Island, China. The resort sets a new standard in leisure, recreation and wellness experiences. Nestled amid lush, green gardens, the resort caters to golf enthusiasts and comprises specially-designed golf courses, each one incorporating the native lava rock formations. Other state-of-the-art features include 525 tastefully appointed guest rooms and suites, a three-storey clubhouse, meeting facilities, 12 world-class restaurants, a fully-equipped sports and recreation center, Hainan’s only aquatic theme park, therapeutic natural mineral springs, a spa oasis, and a shopping arcade. A magnificent addition to Hainan’s tropical island paradise, Mission Hills Resort Hainan is poised to be the island’s premier sanctuary, attracting visitors from around the globe.

    Conveniently located in Haikou city, the administrative and legislative hub of Hainan, Mission Hills Resort Hainan is just 15 minutes from the city center and Haikou Meilan International Airport.

  • You have to wonder what Omega, the World Cup’s title sponsor gets out of this. The World Cup was originally locked in for a 12-year stay at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, which benefited greatly from its proximity to Hong Kong. There is a built-in golf audience there. This was the main concern of almost everyone I spoke to about the possibility of bringing a major international golf event to Hainan: Where would the spectators come from? Hainan is a poor province, home to a couple thousand golfers. Will golf fans fly in for the World Cup? Logistics — the number of flights in and out of Hainan, transportation on the island — are also concerns, but perhaps they will be sorted out by 2011. I think the Sanya-Haikou high-speed train might be operational by then.
  • What’s Haikou weather like in late November? Take a look. Should be pretty nice.
  • With the World Cup now off of Mission Hills Shenzhen, don’t be surprised if you see the WGC-HSBC Champions ditch Shanghai for Shenzhen in the coming years. It’s the next step in Mission Hills’ plan for global domination.

I believe Mission Hills Resort Hainan is paying host to a “golf forum” this weekend, perhaps in conjunction with the Boao International Tourism Forum. So expect to see lots and lots of media reports about Mission Hills Hainan in the near future. (I don’t see anything yet on the official Mission Hills website, however. But I don’t have time to do too much digging.)