Chocolate is the key to golfing on Hainan Island

By | Category: Travel destinations

The Sheraton Dunes

On a recent visit to Hainan Island I was given the opportunity to visit two golf resorts on this attractive volcanic holiday resort island.

How different was golf in China to that which  I was used to in Europe? Are the courses or golf etiquette different to that which I know?

Hainan Island is the most Southerly part of China and just an hour away from Hong Kong. It has a mild, almost tropical temperature which means the feature that accompanies life in the tropics happens here; short sharp rain storms. Whilst the temperature was a steady 20 to 25 degrees, the rain did fall at times.

With my caddy – shy to begin with and then so helpful – at the Sheraton Dunes

Unlike in the UK where the often disinterested pro-shop staff have their heads down, in China it was all smiles, interest and politeness.   There was no off-handed flippant wave telling you where to go to the first tee but proper directions and offers to show me the way. The people are fun, they liked to please and the caddies at both resorts I visited, Sheraton, Shenzhou and Mission Hills near Haikou were no exception.

Being shy-ish and reserved as you start to play, the caddies came out of their shells once they began to understand you and your game.  As you relax, so do they, despite ‘beating themselves up’ if you miss a putt!  Such is their pride and willingness, they “feel” every lipped-out ball, every wayward drive is somehow linked to them. They will happily jump into the undergrowth to retrieve your lost golf ball.  Spritely caddies zip along the fairways often carrying every club you have in your bag to give you the choice, whilst gently persuading you, without ever being presumptuous, towards the one they think you should play.

teeing off at the Sheraton Dunes

A slightly pulled forward club in the selection, or placing their choice in the middle of the club selection so you eye is drawn to that one –  this is the club they want you to play but of course you can say yes or no and they dutifully oblige.  It is a little disconcerting to start with, but generally, if you have a seasoned caddy, they are usually right.  I don’t play as much golf as some, so I was quite happy to go along with the flow, in fact I was keen to do it as it helped me learn more about my game and my lack of judgement about which club to choose. In fact they always clubbed up for me, and most of the time they were right!  It did feel wrong to play a driver on what I thought was a relatively short par 3 and yes I did go through the back of the green, but that was a far better choice than trying to grapple my way down a hillside if I had been short and played the club I would have chosen!

and returning at the end of the day for a sumptuous meal

Interestingly, the caddies learn from each other a lot of the time. At Mission Hills they have Golden caddies who have earned that accolade and wear their bibs with pride as it shows they are more experienced and knowledgeable about golf, and about the golf course being played.  A golden caddy is literally worth their weight in gold!

The resorts themselves have thought about everything to make your stay more pleasurable. For example, at Mission Hills we were given rain macs. The “one size fits all” macs caused giggles as the caddies stood on tip toes helping me into mine whilst using the buggy as their soapbox.  Clear, light-weight, sleeved plastic rain macs similar to that of a plastic bag from Sainsbury’s fruit and veg aisle were perfect to play in and a god-send in those storms although I never did figure out what to do with the hood, except to use it as a water catcher!

the caddies at Mission Hills

You can play plenty of golf on this one island alone. There are two great golf golf courses at Sheraton Shenzohou Peninsula and ten, yes ten at Mission Hills, in fact Mission Hills in Hainan offers 44 miles of golf in the one resort, an incredible feat in itself. What is even more impressive is that all the golf courses were built within eighteen months of each other and all have their own unique identity.  Rather than trying to get away from the natural volcanic terrain, they have embraced it, with one course (Stone Quarry) having a mining railway theme with old railway sidings and Indiana Jones trucks poised part way up in the air on steel tracks.

teeing off at Mission Hills

All courses played were out of this world, with occasional whacky ideas but all great to play whilst keeping the interest as is required of a golf course.  In fairness Mission Hills has been compared to Disney with its themed approach and I can see why, but this doesn’t detract from the great golf on offer. In fact, I think it enhances it.  By contrast golf at the Sheraton , which boasts two exceptionally pretty and good plays with views to die for over the South China Sea, offers a more traditional golf course design with big receptive greens, wide enough fairways  and no gimmicks.

Mission Hills has been compared to a Disney complex

Would Brits visit China for golf?

Why not, would be my answer?  Golfers are always looking for something different, something to claim the bragging rights in the club house when they return from their exotic holidays and China should, without a shadow of a doubt, be thrown into the mix.  Currently the vast majority of overseas golfing visitors are from Australia, but I did meet a couple from the UK en route to Australia who had stopped off to try the golf.

Top tip for getting the most out your caddy – Chocolate!

wherever you go there is a welcome

The caddies loved chocolate.  I was given the heads up so took every caddie a selection box, which they bashfully accepted before giving me a big hug, a bow and then diligently returning to their club cleaning so you can pack your clubs away nice and clean. They always wear a large smile or give a giggle and are always willing to please. I also learned a great deal from my caddie who kept saying “Méi wèntí “(may wing-tee) which means no problem.

And that sums up golfing in Hainan. It’s no problem playing and no problem enjoying yourself especially as the caddies and people are part of the enjoyment.

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