Golf and ski for Chinese resort


Golf and ski for Chinese resort
Sean Dudley

Malaysian developer VXL Group has announced plans for its US$1 billion Beijing Secret Garden resort project 230 km northwest of the Chinese capital.

The four season resort will ultimately include ski facilities, a Whistler-style real estate/commercial community, and seven golf courses, all designed by California-based architecture practice Golfplan.

Founded in 1993, VXL has spearheaded real estate, resort and casinos projects across East and Southeast Asia. Golfplan designed the firm’s first golf project, Awana Genting Highlands G&CC, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, twenty years ago.

Other firms advising on the Beijing Secret Garden project include vertical architects Hornberger Worstel, the firm responsible for the new W Hotel San Francisco and Ecosign, the mountain resort planners who crafted Steamboat Resort in Breckenridge. California-based SWA is responsible for the landscape plan. 

“There are big plans for this property, obviously, and we’re eager to get the golf portion underway,” said Golfplan partner Kevin Ramsey, who anticipates breaking ground on the first course early in 2012. “This year, the concentration has been placed on resort infrastructure. Golf will follow quickly, but the scale of the project necessitates proper roads, reservoirs and electrical capabilities first.

“The Whistler model is instructive. The golf and ski capabilities, in addition to the real estate and commercial developments there are clearly a model. Whistler played a big role in staging Vancouver’s Winter Olympics in 2010. Beijing Secret Garden has been designed to attract world class winter sports events. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see the ultimate goal here.”

Massive infrastructure requisites are quickly falling into place. The Chongli region, home to Beijing Secret Garden, is 50 kilometers east of Zhangjiakou City, which was recently linked by the ZhangCheng Expressway. The Zhangjiakou Airport opened to commercial air travel this year, and completion of the Beijing-Urumqi High Speed Rail, in 2012, will further ease access.

The focus of development is a valley that cuts through a mountains and broad grasslands. The Golfplan-designed course, the first of seven, will occupy either side of the main entry road, meaning it will be the first thing visitors see upon arrival. 

“The routing will rock and roll through these big hills — it will make a statement visually, as our work always does,” Ramsey said. “This a ski area, but this will not be a Korean mountain course. The land is not so severe and there are no trees out there to speak of, just a few pockets of pine and birch. We’ll tie golf holes into those groves where we can, and an ambitious tree planting-scheme is planned. But for me, the site here is the most spectacular feature. These hills are very broad. The air is so clear up here, such a distance away from Beijing. We have par threes that play 60-70 feet downhill, and the views are very long. The setting is quite heroic, but also very peaceful.”

“Beijing Secret Garden is an nuanced example of how far the Chinese market has come in the last 25 years,” said Golfplan partner David Dale, who will collaborate with Ramsey in Sitaizui. “Fact is, the first golf courses built here in China were not built well — golf was so new, it was very difficult to find or import construction expertise. It was equally difficult to match maintenance expertise with newly finished courses. Very few architects are happy with the way those early Chinese courses have fared over time, in terms of construction and maintenance. It’s a sign of how immature the Chinese market was at that time.”