Stand on the first tee at Tiger Beach Golf Links and prepare to briefly lose the ability to speak. The view from this tricky par four, one of the highest points on the course, is awe-inspiring: rough sand dunes covered in wild fescue, rumpled fairways punctuated by seemingly inescapable pot bunkers, ocean waves crashing over a sandy stretch of beach in the distance—goats can even be seen grazing in the tangled rough. Then there’s the wind, hammering off the sea on my visit in November, with the flagsticks fighting a losing battle to remain upright, and the temperature, which had the nifty thermometer on my newfangled wristwatch reading forty-six degrees Fahrenheit. My playing partner, Brad Shih, the club’s amiable executive vice president, understood my befuddlement. "Just like Scotland, right," he said, his inflection indicating he meant it as a statement, not a question. "It’s more Scottish than Scotland," I replied in all seriousness before scuttling a weak drive down the fairway.
Except the breaking waves at Tiger Beach belong to the Yellow Sea, not the North Sea. This isn’t Scotland; this is China. Or to be exact, this is a pure links in China’s northerly Shandong Province that looks as if it had been laid out in the 1800s but is, in fact, less than seven years old. An exact replica of the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews crosses a trickling burn in front of the fifth tee, and I challenge even gruff hip-flask-toting Scots to tell the difference.
More astonishing is that Tiger Beach (named in honor of Tiger Woods’s historic 2000 season, during which he won three majors) was designed not by Jack Nicklaus or Tom Fazio but by Beta Soong, the club’s links-loving owner. Soong, a Taiwanese entrepreneur who made a fortune in electronics, first experienced the traditional form of golf in the early 1990s when visiting a newly acquired factory near Glasgow. A few rounds on the Ayrshire coast followed by a tour of classic British Isles links and his mind was made up: He would return to China and build a course of the kind that Asia had never seen.
The extraordinary result of Soong’s endeavors went pretty much unnoticed until members of a delegation from Angus, Scotland, visiting the region on a cultural exchange, took a break from their civic duties and ventured to Tiger Beach. Upon their return, word spread to venerable Carnoustie, Angus’s most renowned links, whose leaders dispatched their own representatives to take a look. "They couldn’t believe that such a course could exist in China," remembers Shih with a chuckle. "They said they felt like they were at home back in Scotland."
The two clubs have since agreed to become siblings, so to speak, the first and only time since Carnoustie was founded in 1842 that it has been "twinned" with another club. Soong, a self-confessed hacker whose schedule prevents him from playing more than a handful of times a year, has been given honorary life membership at Carnoustie for "his vision in establishing a truly Scottish links course at Tiger Beach using his own inspiration and design."
Tiger Beach Golf Links
Feng Cheng Tourist & Vacation Zone, Haiyang, Yantai, Shandong Province, China.
Architect: Beta Soong, 2000. Yardage: 7,222. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $100-$150. Contact: 011-86/535-331-1808, tigerbeach.com.