Tiger Beach Golf Links

Excerpted from THE GREAT GOLF COURSES OF CHINA
by Robin Moyer

5th Hole
For golfers familiar only with China’s parkland courses, their tree-lined airways, manicured rough, whimsical topiary, and sometimes overwrought clubhouses, Tiger Beach Links will come as quite a surprise. For golfers familiar with the history of the game and classic golf course architecture, for those who thrive on the sight of rough dunes clad in pale fescue and fairways like ocean waves, dotted with pot bunkers, for those who long for big sky and wide open spaces, challenging winds, and the chance to play a myriad of shots to the same end, arriving at Tiger Beach will feel like a homecoming- if not something close to heave.

The Shandong Peninsula juts out into the Yellow and Bohai Seas with the Koreas, North and South, to the east and Beijing to the northwest. Qingdao equi-distant and only an hour-long flight from Shanghai, Beijing, or Seoul, is a former German concession and the home of China’s best beer-you can buy it from the brewery by the kilo and take it away in a plastic bag. One of China’s more forward-looking provinces, with wide roads and new cities sitting beside historic towns such as Qufu, where Confucius once resided, Shandong is also home to an anomaly in golf in China: Tiger Beach Golf Links, one of the very few courses in China styled in the purist tradition of Scottish seaside golf.

Shandong, in the region of Tiger Beach near the end of the peninsula, has a rugged, mountainous interior with bald, stony outcrops sprouting gnarled, windblown pines. Terraced hillsides support orchards of apple, pear, and peach, each budding fruit carefully bagged to protect it from predatory insects. Managed patches of larch, aspen, and Chinese black and red pine, interspersed with tobacco, corn, peanuts, and sweet watermelon, lead down to a twisting coastline of wide beaches alternating with rocky cliffs and giving way to the Yellow Sea. Dotted with neat villages in earthly tones of gray stone, dusky brick, and terracotta tile, it is a most pleasing landscape.

Tiger Beach is set on true links land, that sandy terrain of little seeming value between beach and pasture- you could just as easily be golfing on the Fifth of Tay. In fact, Tiger Beach has a sister-club relationship with Carnoustie, one of Scotland’s most revered courses, where golf has been played since the early seventeenth century. The small town of Feng Cheng, bordering Tiger Beach to the west, even has the look and feel of Scottish mill town, complete with steeples and tidy, huddled row houses.

What possesses a Taiwanese Entrepreneur, a self-admitted duffer, not only to decide to build a links course in Shandong but also to have the temerity to design it himself? Beta Soong is no stranger to golf. As the developer of Shanghai Silport, spiritual home of the Volvo China Open, he knows what golfers want and how a course is built from the ground up. But to be able to distill centuries of wisdom from golfdom’s great designers- from Alan Robertson and Tom Morris to Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie, not to mention Mother Nature herself- strains credibility. But design it he did, and the result is a freewheeling, well conceived, and lovingly constructed golf course, as pure a links as one can find east of Scotland.

Stepping up to the tee of the opening hole, the first thing you notice at Tiger Beach is the absence of trees crowding the fairways; only a few wind-twisted Chinese red pines stand as sentinels around the course, more observers than participants in the game. A couple of copses of dark, lodgepole pines serve as contrasting backdrops for green complexes, like those flanking the First and behind the Third or on the left side of the Seventh.

Next come the bunkers: There are only fifty-nine sand pits on the course, but they immediately make their presence felt. The fairway bunkers, ominous deep shadows jutting out into the fairways, seem much larger and deeper when viewed from the tee. Walking past them, it is clear that you have been fooled, intimidated by Beta’s tricks: Their perceived great depth and size prove to be illusions. In reality, they are shallow, flat-bottomed pot bunkers only a few yards across and less than a yard deep, easy to escape unless you are too close to the turfed face. Mostly they encourage a carry or avoidance right or left, and there is an especially interesting staggered trio of pot bunkers running across the fairway of the Seventeenth, with the longest carry affording the best line, of course-or so you think. But not necessarily: Depending on the pin position, you may find yourself wrong-sided if you opt for a heroic carry.

The greenside bunkers are another matter, deep pits with grassy faces sculpted around the greens. When trapped there, you may well see only the top of the flag and will certainly be forced to employ your best wedge play to escape. The medium- fine river sand in the hazards echoes the color of the sand on the beach and plays very well.
18th Hole

And finally, the greens that rise up out of the sandy loam flow from their surrounds, ridges from rough-clad mounds leading down and bisecting the putting surfaces in a most natural manner, all framed by sky and sea or the craggy peaks toward the interior.

After reading voraciously, visiting scores of courses in Scotland and Ireland, and taking hundreds of photos, Soong gave shape to the course over nearly four years introspective experimentation, based on his research and personal concept of artistic harmony. Utilizing a broad brush with great care, he painted a golfing scroll of mounds, humps and swales by the seashore that is neatly tied in from tee to green, accented with a minimalist’s palette of bunkering. Inquisitive magpies, traditionally good luck omens in China, cavort in play across the fairways or vigorously defend their nesting areas. Along the seaside holes, the subdued roar and smell of the surf are ever present. It is very pleasing to the senses.

Constant change is a major theme at Tiger Beach. From the very start, Soong and his construction manager, Brad Shih, formed the course by hand and eye-first the Front Nine grew slowly, was then ripped up and worked again, then the Back Nine was constructed, which turned out better than the Front and forced a third rework of the Front. Confused? Change orders are the bane of golf course accountants, but that is the way these links have evolved. A new pot bunker recently appeared on the left of the Ninth fairway, tucked innocently away behind the old bunker and a mound, looking as if it had been there forever but cleverly protecting the dogleg from future predation.

As with all links courses, to be fully appreciated Tiger Beach must be played in a variety of conditions. As the Scots like to say, “If it’s nae wind, it’s nae golf.” A howling gale of a 5-club wind off the ocean that turns the 480-yard Fifteen from a long, tough par 4 to an easy par 7 will certainly test your game and your patience. Without the breeze, the course plays much easier, but you will still have to hit long and precise shots using all the clubs in your bag and then make some putts as well if you are to challenge your handicap.

 Many players coming to Tiger Beach Links from afar avail themselves of the fifty large hotel rooms at the club, though many others are residents of Qingdao and perfectly willing to make the sixty-five mile trip several times a week. And most try to play at least thirty-six holes a day. Food, mostly Chinese and Korean, is very good, and an international menu is slowly evolving, just like the course. Plans are moving ahead for a larger hotel and an additional nine holes. Our plans are to return to Tiger Beach as often as possible.

13th Hole

 

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