First Chinese course for Rees Jones

By AML

US design firm Rees Jones Inc is coming towards the end of construction work on its first project in China, the Yunling Golf & Spa Resort.

Located in the interior of southwest China in Yunnan Province, the 27-hole club is situated on the outskirts of Kunming, at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Yunling’s first 18 holes will be seeded this month, 0, with a soft opening slated for summer 2011, after which the third nine will be built. The 27-hole facility will feature a mix of both open and wooded holes and an elevation change of nearly 600 feet.

“We are blessed with a great site and a client who is committed to doing a first-class job,” said Greg Muirhead, ASGCA, Rees Jones’s senior vice president. 

Two-thirds of the Yunling site is open, according to Muirhead. The first and third nines occupy rolling, generally treeless terrain, while the second nine will be carved from a mixed forest of conifers and deciduous trees, he said. There are also prominent rock outcrops on site that have been incorporated into the design of the course.  “We've emphasised to the developer that we can accentuate the site's natural diversity with our overall design,” Muirhead said. 

“The most memorable golf courses generally have the most natural variety,” Muirhead said. “Yunling's natural diversity is a real asset that other golf courses in the area don't have. The site's topographic and vegetative variety can really work in our favour.”

Muirhead said the Chinese development team behind Yunling visited the US to tour a variety of Rees Jones-designed courses before construction began. “The developers want a championship-calibre course that can attract major tournaments, and that's what we're building, but we wanted them to see first-hand a variety of design styles at public, private and resort facilities in a variety of environments, including open, wooded, flat and hilly locations,” he explained.

“We're trying to make the golf course at Yunling visually dramatic and exciting,” said firm principal Rees Jones. “Water is a highly regarded element in Chinese culture. Our concept is to create water features that fit the landscape. We're creating ponds and other water features, both for strategic and aesthetic purposes, where they would appear naturally, in existing low areas. They'll also be visible from the club's surrounding residential area.

At more than a mile above sea level, Muirhead explained that Yunling presents its own unique set of design challenges. “On the highest elevation holes where wind will be a major factor, we've made the fairways wider and the greens slightly larger, with adjacent 'saving' features,” he said. The facility will feature bentgrass tees, greens and fairways. The primary rough is bluegrass. The second band of rough is a blend of fescue grasses. Out-of-play areas will be planted with creeping lovegrass to provide a different visual texture.”

“We've learned that many Asian golfers equate 'quality' golf with course difficulty,” Jones said. “We're trying to balance the expectations of Asian golfers with the realities of what we've learned over the years about across-the-board playability. In order to attract and retain new golfers in China, it's important these new courses are playable and enjoyable for beginning and intermediate players.

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