Mission Hills Haikou: Rehab for golfers
The sun is blazing down across a vast swathe of manicured fairway; a young caddie holds an umbrella over me for shade; I swing, the ball flies, a cloud of dust and sand puffs into the air as it plugs deep into the bunker on the ninth.
Another caddie rolls up in a cart and hands me an icy beer. “Nice strike! Next time, make good shot,” he offers.
By the end of the round I’ve lost five balls, had three beers and barely walked 50 yards, courtesy the golf cart.
This is golf Mission Hills Haikou style -- enjoyed slowly, shrugged off easily.
If there was a medical condition called “golfer’s curse” (symptoms: broken three-irons, sand-filled shoes, permanent indignation) Mission Hills Haikou would be the go-to rehab clinic.
It's one of various developments to have taken advantage of Hainan Province’s “Special Economic Zone” status, which China hopes will see the island emerge as a major tourism destination.
“After your round you can ease away the aching with any of our 220 volcanic mineral spring pools,” explains the reception girl on my arrival.
“Or you can try our luxurious spa for foot reflexology,” she continues. “Or refuel at any of our 12 restaurants and cafes.”
So let’s be clear -- Mission Hills Haikou is not just a round of golf. It’s a full on, no-frills-spared vacation.
You could spend a week here without ever needing to leave the front door, and importantly, the wife/husband and kids, or even business clients, could join you.
At least, that’s the resort’s aim -- to become the foremost upscale destination on China’s only tropical island.
“Mission Hills is a leisure complex which includes eight aspects -- dining, accommodation, tourism, shopping, entertainment, conventions, health and tournaments, for all people around the world, not just hardcore golfers,” says Ken Chu, chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group.
Golf is not just about golf
Mission Hills is not the only brand to take advantage of golf’s rise in Asia as what marketers call an “aspirational” activity.
Mark Liversidge, chief marketing officer at CSL Limited, owner of mobile brand 1010, has adopted golf as one of 1010’s “lifestyle signifiers,” with a series of pro-am golf events where mobile marketing is nearly non-existent -- it’s all about the sport.
“Golf is one of those games where business nearly equals pleasure,” Liversidge says. “What attracts players to the game is enjoyment, socializing and health, but it’s also an important platform for networking, doing business and entertaining clients.”
Liversidge quotes a study by HSBC in 2007 of 1,500 golfers across Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea which found that "79 percent said they had clinched business deals on the green. One third said they closed business deals during golf every month."
So will the mergers and acquisitions of Asia’s future be taking place on what the Hainan Tourism Commission calls “the world’s most beautiful island”?
If we look at its natural attributes, it’s hard to fault.
Hainan Island has been dubbed “the Hawaii of the East.” Winter temperatures rarely go below 16C, summer can hit 38C.
A major surfing competition takes place on Hainan every year, accommodation options vary from beachside deluxe to backpacker budget and activities range from volcano treks to turtle conservation activites to fantastical, theatrical shows.
Not to forget the nearly 30 golf courses on the island.
Some 26 million tourists visited the island in 2010, putting it among the world’s top destinations already, and the likelihood is that this figure will significantly grow over the next decade, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The Mission Hills Haikou resort is the driver in the golfer’s bag -- 10 courses, hectares of manicured fairways, caddies who really can play, lessons for the whole family, a decent pro shop, major golfing events (such as the World Celebrity Pro-Am and the Omega Mission Hills World Cup of Golf) and few hold-ups between holes.
But it's away from the fairways where Mission Hills Haikou appears to be trying to redefine the golfing resort.
There are those 200+ mineral spa pools (she wasn’t lying), activities for kids, a spa and other resort amenities including indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a shopping arcade (more details below).
The dining options are plentiful and the accommodation unquestionable.
It is inevitably a little soulless. A five-star confection created with China's burgeoning ranks of wealthy city escapees in mind.
For that reason too, English language skills appear not to be part of the staff's skill set just yet.
It is also a bit of a construction site in parts. Residential units are being built around the perimeter for those who want to live golf.
But none of this should put you off.
International flights to Haikou can be taken from many cities in China and also from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
In short -- it’s got a lot going for it.
Back on the course, my caddie lines up my putt using helpful arrows on the ball. “Strike firm, left to right,” she says.
I swing, the ball rolls ... past the hole and onto the fringe 10 feet beyond.
I’ve got a date with a mineral spa to look forward to.
Mission Hills Haikou: The courses
Ten Schmit-Curley designed courses to choose from; here are the details.
The flagship course and host to various international events. The lava rock indigenous to Hainan is incorporated, as are trees, forests, lakes and wetlands. All fairway cut, no rough. Challenging and beautiful.
Par: 73, 7,808 yards
2. Sandbelt Trails
Vertical-lip bunkers, native grasses and Eucalyptus trees create a traditional Australian Sandbelt-inspired layout. It’s rolling and it’s wide, but it offers a natural feel too.
Par: 72, 7,297 yards
3. The Vintage
A classic-design that pays homage to courses of old. “A welcome relief from the many cookie-cutter modern courses that dominate golf today,” says Mission Hills. Expect wicker basket pins, geometric bunkers, including one inside one of the greens, and a design that leaves the heavily wooded area as undisturbed as possible.
Par: 72, 7,363 yards
4. Stepping Stone
All par-threes, so a good course to fine-tune your short game.
Par: 54, 2,176 yards
5. Lava Fields
A long course with little tree cover. Expansive fairways dominated by sand and lava, similar in feel to Blackstone. Rugged but offers various angles of attack into greens.
Par: 72, 7,475 yards
6. Meadow Links
Grass-faced bunkers create a meadow-like feel here. Large greens make putting tricky.
Par: 70, 6,673 yards
7. Stone Quarry
A shortish course with six par-threes, inspired by the designs of Pete Dye, you can expect to come across coal cars, railroad tracks and abandoned mining equipment, testament to the volcanic quarries that featured in this area previously.
Par: 70, 6,029 yards
8. Double Pin
Another par-three course, this time featuring two pins on each hole, one easy, one difficult.
Par: 54, 1,921 yards
9. The Preserve
A highly landscaped course featuring wide fairways, large bunkers, palm trees and flowering shrubs. A good one for beginners, with little rough and few lost-ball hazards.
Par: 70, 6,535 yards
10. Shadow Dunes
A desert-like vista with significant amounts of sand and huge greens that can make for some enormous putts. A quick round, that also features Caribbean-style comfort stations.
Par: 70, 6,428 yards
Mission Hills Haikou: Other amenities
Volcanic Mineral Springs
More than 200 hot and cold springs segregated into various themed “continents.” If you see people wandering around looking like shriveled up prunes, you know where they’ve been.
Each pool is infused with some kind of mineral or “rejuvenating” product, such as green tea, mint or vanilla.
Can easily lose half a day here.
Best for: Golfers post-round.
Bad for: Speedo-phobes.
Mission Hills Spa
The 20,000 square meter spa, designed in the style of Fujian Tulou, a UNESCO heritage site, includes: 29 spa villas, a library, a spa café, a hair and nail department, a spa shop, a hydrotherapy zone and a spa garden.
Most impressively, this spa also offers complete programs for kids.
Treatments vary from a 20-minute head and shoulder massage (RMB 180 (US$29)) to a detoxing “Energy Escape” package, lasting more than three hours in total (RMB 2,140).
Best for: Wealthy stress-cases.
Bad for: Intimacy issues.
The clubhouse’s stand-out restaurant is the Silver Moon. Its strength is the various dishes from different regions in China, but it covers most of Asia, including Thai food, Singaporean and Cantonese.
For less formal sittings, the clubhouse also has Magma Café, providing restaurant fare, and the Star Trophy Lounge for snacks and drinks.
The hotel has four venues offering full restaurant meals, the best of which is probably Ukiyo, the Japanese restaurant. The grilled mackerel is outstanding.
The Lava Bar and Grill is also worth a sitting.
As well as a comprehensive pro shop, the resort has a shopping arcade for seekers of big-brand clothing and expensive jewels, and a kids’ toy shop called Aloha Discovery that is sure to be as addictive to its target audience as it is exasperating for their parents.
The Lava Lagoon is called “Hainan’s only aquatic theme park” by Mission Hills’ excitable marketing reps.
It’s not quite that, but it is a fantastic outdoor pool and beach (manmade) area that works great as a way to escape the sometimes-sweltering heat.
It also features volleyball courts, a stage for live shows and a Lazy River for people who like to spend time wedged into rubber rings.
There’s an indoor pool in the recreation center, which also features a large gym, a foot reflexology clinic and a kids’ play room, full of ropes, tubes, balls and other climbable things.
The resort is a 15-minute drive from Haikou Meilan International Airport. Complimentary shuttle buses are provided by the resort if requested.
Flights to Haikou airport operate daily from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and various cities in China.
Rooms at Mission Hills Haikou cost from RMB 1,280 (US$204) per night for a deluxe room, to RMB 38,800 for a presidential suite.
Mission Hills Haikou, No. 1 Mission Hills Boulevard, Haikou, Hainan, China; +86 898 6868 3888; www.missionhillschina.com