In the old days if you wanted to play golf in Hong Kong, you really had to work at it. The first golf course, precursor 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 football, hockey and polo, golfers were not allowed to dig holes or build bunkers--they had to use wire mesh for bunkers and pieces of granite for holes: Hit the rock, make your putt.
Happily, things are a bit easier these days. Tigers no longer threaten members at Hong Kong GC (the "Royal" was dropped after what's referred to locally as "the Chinese takeout" two years ago), and you can get there in less than an hour from all of the city's major hotels. The only club open to visitors on Hong Kong Island itself is Deepwater Bay, a nine-hole gem near Stanley. It's fun to play (eight par threes, one par four) but hard to get to because of heavy traffic. Still, Discovery Bay is just a short boat ride from Central, and golf in southern China is booming; thanks to the mainland's hunger for hard currency, there are about fifty courses now being built within two hours of Hong Kong. Outside the golf clubs in China not much English is spoken, so it would be best to ask the club or your hotel to make travel and meal arrangements. You will also need a visa for the courses in China, which your concierge can help you get overnight.
Whatever the hassle, it is repaid by experiences replicable nowhere else. On the way to the Kau Sai Chau courses, for example, near the ferry pier, is the Hung Kee Seafood Restaurant, an unassuming local favorite where you select what you want to eat, alive and squirming, from a tank (freshness being the sine qua non of Cantonese cuisine). Minutes later a waiter brings it to your table for a final precooking inspection. The result is the most succulent seafood imaginable. Try getting that on the way to Pine Valley.
Hong Kong Golf Club
From the columns outside the clubhouse to the memorabilia on its paneled walls, Hong Kong Golf Club resonates British tradition, which is altogether appropriate for the seat of golf in colonial Hong Kong. With three eighteen-hole courses in Fanling and nine more holes at Deepwater Bay, this is also one of the busiest clubs in the world, with an average of 330 rounds played daily. It has an internationally diverse membership of more than three thousand, many of them million-dollar corporate memberships. Individual memberships come considerably cheaper, at about $15,000, but there is a waiting list of twenty to thirty years. One of the most storied clubs in the world of golf, Hong Kong GC may be almost worth the wait. None of the three courses there--the Old course (par seventy-one, 6,231 yards), the New course (par seventy, 6,531 yards) and the Eden course (par seventy, 6,060 yards)--is very long, having been laid out by club members as land became available. All have a mature look with paper-bark trees, wide fairways and not very intrusive water hazards. The greens are of medium speed but have subtle breaks. The Old course has distinctive carpet grass, though the other two use traditional Bermuda. Despite the staged construction of the courses, they flow naturally over rolling hills. (The Hong Kong Open originated on the Old course in 1959, but since 1973 holes from the Eden and New courses have been incorporated for the Open course to create a tougher test; it measures out at 6,722 yards, par seventy-one.) As at most British clubs, there are no motorized carts available, but the club does has five caddiemasters to organize more than five hundred caddies, many of them women from the Hakka tribe, recognizable by their distinctive broad-brimmed hats and sun shades.
How to Get a Tee Time: Despite being a busy facility, Hong Kong Golf Club welcomes visitors on weekdays. On weekends visitors must play with a member. Your concierge can make golf and travel arrangements. The phone number is 011-852-2670-1211. (Clubs and shoes are available for rent.)
Directions From Hong Kong: Though you can take an electric commuter train to Fanling, the easiest way to get to the course is by taxi. Unless the traffic is heavy, the ride to the club is about forty-five minutes from Central.