The fairways of Kau Sai Chau Golf Club in Hong Kong // © 2011 AntonioR
Most people don't think of golf when they think of Hong Kong, but there are four wonderful courses on Hong Kong Island itself, in Kowloon and on some of its nearby, but easily accessible, islands. I've played the public course, Kau Sai Chau, and it can hold its own against the more well-known courses in other parts of the world. Clients can also play private courses by making arrangements through their hotel concierge or the Hong Kong Golf Association.
Hong Kong's golf scene wasn't always as easy as it is today, however. In the old days, if you wanted to play golf in Hong Kong, you really had to work for it. The first golf course, a forerunner to Royal Hong Kong Golf Club, opened in 1889 on the infield of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Because the infield grass was also used for soccer, field hockey and polo games, golfers were not allowed to dig holes or build bunkers. Instead, they had to use wire mesh for bunkers and pieces of granite for holes. The game consisted of hitting the rock and making your putt.
Fortunately, things are a bit easier these days.
Tigers no longer roam the fairways, threatening members of the Hong Kong Golf Club (the word "Royal" was dropped after the city's 1997 hand over to China), and clients can arrive there by car in less than an hour from all of the city's major hotels.
Many visitors prefer to start out at Deepwater Bay, part of the Hong Golf Club and located on Hong Kong Island itself. This nine-hole gem near Stanley is fun to play (eight par 3 holes, one par 4 hole) but sometimes difficult to get to because of heavy traffic.
There are also dozens of courses being built within two hours of Hong Kong in Guangdong and Shenzhen in mainland China. Outside of Hong Kong, however, not much English is spoken. So, it is best to request that the club or hotel makes travel and meal arrangements for your clients. They will also need a visa for the courses in China, which a concierge can help acquire overnight. Typically, the courses closer to Hong Kong, such as Mission Hills or Shenzhen Golf Club, will arrange to have clients picked up at their hotel.
Whatever the hassle of getting to a course may be, it is repaid with experiences that are found nowhere else in the world.
On the way to the Kau Sai Chau course, for example, near the ferry pier, is the Hung Kee Seafood Restaurant, an unassuming local favorite where diners select what they want to eat, alive and squirming, from a tank (freshness being the absolute rule of Cantonese cooking). Minutes later, a waiter brings it to the table for a final inspection before it's cooked. The result was the most succulent seafood I'd ever tasted, something I surely couldn't get at home.
Oh, yes, and this being Hong Kong, there are strict procedures to follow in the event of a typhoon. A "signal three red and yellow rain warning" isn't so bad -- golfers will be allowed to play as long as the course is open. But things get sticky when a "signal eight black rain warning" is issued: That is when it's time to run for cover and avoid standing too close to your metal clubs.
What follows is a brief description of the four major golf clubs to be found in Hong Kong. According to the Hong Kong Golf Association, guests will need to present their passports and handicap cards to play them. In addition to these clubs, Hong Kong has also seen an explosion of driving ranges located throughout the city, for those who want to get a bit of practice in first.Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club
With its high wind-swept ocean views, this course is justifiably known as China's Pebble Beach. It was laid out atop granite mountains that are more than 400 feet above sea level; there was no flat land, no regular supply of water and little topsoil. It can get very windy, and errant shots will most likely not end up in another fairway but in a ravine or the sea. The front nine runs through the hills, while the back nine runs along the sea. Carts are highly recommended to deal with the steep terrain, and there are both a marina and helicopter pad on site for those who want to make a dramatic entrance.Discovery Bay Golf Club
Located on Lantau Island, an upscale outlying island, this club is conveniently located within a 25-minute drive from the central financial district, a 10-minute drive from Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and a 20-minute drive from Hong Kong International Airport. The views of Hong Kong Victoria Harbour and the central skyline are breathtaking, especially from the lounge near the 18th green known as the "spike" bar because golfers are allowed to wear their golf shoes. Hong Kong Golf Club
The Hong Kong Golf Club includes two golf properties, the original nine-hole course at Deepwater Bay and three, 18-hole courses in Fanling in the New Territories. The Fanling courses are host to the annual Hong Kong Open. Golfers often report hearing the "clink" of golf balls hitting old glass bottles that contain the remains of ancestors buried on the grounds. The club has hundreds of caddies, many of them women from the Hakka tribe, all recognizable by their distinctive broad-brimmed hats and sun shades. Kau Sai Chau Golf Club
Set on rugged Kau Sai Chau Island, this is the only public course in Hong Kong having been built with private funds on low-use public land. The 36-hole facility can only be reached via a 10-minute ride on a dedicated ferry. Steep terrain made the island unsuitable for housing or business, so the British previously used the area as an artillery range. Spectacular hardly describes the course, which is surrounded by the South China Sea. On some fairways, there are there are old tombs in protected areas where former residents have been buried.