The renovated 18 reopened as a walking-only course, a rare renovation decision (exceedingly rare in Asia) that necessitated the removal of some 8 km of concrete cart paths.
“Our members were on board with these changes from the beginning -- they understood that a traditional links is best enjoyed on foot, with caddies,” Lanhai International CC general manager Jay Porter said. “They were ready for that aspect; it was honestly not that controversial.
“What they weren’t ready for was just how good, how unique the new course has revealed itself to be. They’re over the moon about what OCCM have created here. The new 18 holes at Yangtze Dunes course are still quite young, still growing-in to maturity. But the members love it because it’s unlike anything in Shanghai, anything in China – anything in Asia, frankly. The walking-only aspect is but a small aspect of the transformation that has taken place here.”
Located on Chongming, an island in the Yangtze River delta, Lanhai International CC was founded in 2009. It quickly took its place among the top clubs in Asia on the strength of its 36 holes (including the Woodlands Course, a Nicklaus Design), its elegant Tuscan-style clubhouse, and a distinguished membership drawn from nearby Shanghai. In late 2016, new club ownership commissioned OCCM, whose partners include 2006 U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, to create a golfing experience that would stand alongside the world’s best.
“The mere fact that we’ve created a true links track at Yangtze Dunes makes it stand out from nearly every golf course that currently exists in Asia,” said Ashley Mead, the OCCM partner who directed renovation activities here on Chongming. “For whatever reason – cultural or climatic – Asian developers have not chosen to build many courses in the links tradition.
“As a firm, we’re deeply committed to designing golf courses that represent the local environment. And here’s a relevant fact: Chongming is the largest alluvial island in the world – alluvial being a fancy way of describing sand islands formed by river currents. So, we’re in China, on a giant sand bar in the middle of the mighty Yangtze River, just northeast of Shanghai, in the shadow of the towering Yangtze River Bridge. This site was crying out for a full-on links and we’re very pleased Yangtze Dunes so strongly accentuates this place and culture.”
OCCM also pushed and ultimately gained approval for the creation of a sprawling, flamboyantly contoured putting course to replace an auxiliary practice green that once sat between the first tee and 18th green. The Chuiwan Course drew its inspiration not from the Himalayas at St. Andrews, nor the Punchbowl at Bandon Dunes, but the ancient Chinese game of the same name.
Chuiwan was first mentioned in the book Dongxuan Lu, written by Wei Tai in the late 10th century, during the Song dynasty. The game remained a favorite of the nobility through the Yuan [1206–1368] and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties. The rules are remarkably similar to that of modern golf: Players use a set of up to 10 clubs; wooden balls are driven across varying terrain toward (and ultimately into) holes festooned with colored flags.
“Some Chinese scholars have advanced the idea that perhaps chuiwan was taken across Asia during the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty – to Scotland eventually, which explains the emergence of golf there. I think that remains open to interpretation,” Porter said. “But the Chinese people do reserve a special sort of respect and admiration for their ancestors. This was a game they clearly played, centuries ago. The Chuiwan Course will provide our members the opportunity to regularly pay homage to this ancestral, thoroughly Chinese game in a really fun way.”
The profile and ambitions of Lanhai International were raised considerably following its purchase by the Ping An Group in 2016. Founded in 1988 as an insurance specialist (it was China’s first joint stock insurance company), Ping An stands today as a fully integrated, compact, multi-functional financial services group whose core activities center on insurance, banking, and investment. At the close of September 2017, the Group boasted more than 1.7 million employees serving 153 million individual customers.
The team Ping An has assembled at Lanhai International is headed by the American Porter, formerly the GM at storied Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. Course construction activities, just completed, were led by The Forward Group, China’s leading course building and club management firm. Forward collaborates at Lanhai on the club operations side with U.S.-based Landscapes Unlimited, a club management specialist with more than 50 facilities in its operations portfolio worldwide.
Ownerships most significant hire may well have been OCCM: As a quartet of Australians, born and bred, OCCM have naturally toiled a great deal in their native country. Their recent 36-hole redesign at Peninsula Kingswood catapulted the club into Melbourne’s elite Sand Belt cohort. Down the road at venerable Kingston Heath, the firm’s long-standing consultation recently produced a stunning new 19th hole. And though OCCM has authored more extensive, similarly celebrated renovations all over the country – at Victoria GC, Commonwealth, Royal Canberra, The Lakes in Sydney, and Lake Karrinyup (home to a European Tour event near Perth) – Mead sees very little at Yangtze Dunes that he would call “Australian” or even “Australia-inspired”.
“For us, no matter where we’re working, it’s all about tying the design back to the natural landscape,” he said. “We actually went around to several traditional parks, old villages and gardens in the Shanghai area to get a better feel for this. We visited some lovely natural wetlands just around the corner from the golf course, on Chongming Island itself, to gather cues on the vegetation front. The terrain, vegetation and immediate environment here just don’t recall any Australian environment we’ve see or worked in.
“I doubt very much many golf courses have ever been built in this sort of environment, full stop, especially here in Asia. Which helps explain why Yangtze Dunes is so special.”