Spin a globe, close your eyes, and place your finger on a patch of land. These days, chances are good you're pointing at a golf course. Or two. Or twenty. Or two hundred. As Robert Trent Jones Jr. says, golf's overseas building boom has now taken hold—everywhere. "Some of the best golf courses in the world built in the last decade are in such remote places," says the globe-trotting designer, "that Americans not only don't know about them, they don't even associate them with golf."
Like China. Thailand. Vietnam. Dubai. Barbados. Bhutan. Bali. And there's more. Much more (see "Hot 20," below). "The success of Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes," architect Tom Doak says, "has helped people realize that a great piece of land, even in a far-flung location, can turn into a successful project." He should know, as his encores to Pacific Dunes led him to New Zealand and Tasmania.
Indeed, on these distant shores, spectacular land is not only cheap, there's also less political and environmental red tape, which isn't surprising: Golf courses lure golfers, boosting tourism, bringing needed dollars, euros and yen into emerging economies. There's also this philosophical intangible: "Freedom," insists Tom Fazio, author of the Green Monkey in Barbados. "When people are free and look at how we live and play in America, they see what a draw a golf course can be."
And nowhere does all of this come together more dramatically than in China. Today, Mission Hills, just outside Hong Kong, is on its way to surpassing Pinehurst as the largest golf resort in the world, complete with a five-star hotel and nine of its ten planned courses already open; designers include Nicklaus, Faldo and Norman. With more than $4 billion in courses already seeded in the country, developers have dubbed China's tantalizing new crop "green opium." China will even host its first European PGA Tour stop, the BMW Asian Open, in Shanghai this spring.
What's next?South America is ripe, says Rees Jones, as are the islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Then there's that other island a wedge shot south of Florida. "When Cuba finally opens up," says an expectant Doak, "that will be a hotbed."
And who knows?Given global warming, Antarctica might be the next.
HOT 2004 INTERNATIONAL OPENINGS
Barnbougle Dunes, Tasmania: Cape Kidnappers (see below) may garner the hype, but Tom Doak says this roughly 6,900-yard Down Under stunner, scheduled to open on Tasmania's north coast in October, is every bit as good: "It's a true links, a really stunning site. Several observers have declared it to be possibly the third best course in Australia, behind Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath." Strong words. Strong course. (barnbougledunes.com)
Bovey Castle (Old Course), England: This renovated J.F. Abercromby course has undergone a thoughtful $4 million restoration by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie and is scheduled to reopen this June. But it's the high-end resort by Peter de Savary that makes this destination worth the trip. (011-44/1647-445-000; boveycastle.com)
Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand: Opened in January on one of the world's most dramatic sites, this jaw-dropping, cliff-dwelling 7,137-yard course is so spectacular it might finally turn this nation into a golf destination. Not convinced it's worth the trip?Consider that shots that stray off the 480-foot cliffs here will take about ten seconds to fall to the ocean below. Try that in Nebraska. (011-64/6-875-1900; capekidnappers.com)
Dundonald, Loch Lomond, Scotland: Designer Kyle Phillips's first Scottish course since Kingsbarns, only this time he didn't have to manufacture a classic—this seaside linksland came ready-made. A private course that opened in April with limited public play, it's a tough tee time to land, but well worth it. (011-44/1294-314-000; lochlomond.com)
Four Seasons Golf Club at Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rica: This elegant Arnold Palmer layout, which opened in January, is nestled onto the thin and exotic Peninsula Papagayo and offers ocean views on fourteen holes. The resort's stand-alone suites, designed in a delightful armadillo-back style, are some of Four Seasons' finest. They're a destination unto themselves. (011-50/66-96-0000; fourseasons.com)
The Green Monkey, Sandy Lane, Barbados: Yes, this Tom Fazio gem was supposed to open last year. Then again, it was supposed to open in 2002. But with its expected opening this spring, the world can finally see the roller-coaster routing that plays up, down and over the walls of an abandoned stone quarry. (866-444-4080; sandylane.com)
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman: Hands down this year's most highly anticipated nine-hole course, this aesthetically stunning Greg Norman layout will offer sensational golf in one of nature's most perfect environments. There wasn't enough land to build a full eighteen, but you'll hardly care. (800-241-3333, ritzcarlton.com)
THE NOT LIST: $275-PLUS GREENS FEES . . . 150-PLUS SLOPES . . . THE GOLF INDUSTRY'S "COLLAPSE" . . . "CARTS ONLY" . . . "MATS ONLY" . . . PHONED-IN "NAME" DESIGNS . . . "TIGER-PROOFING" . . . "SIGNATURE HOLES" . . . ENVIRONMENTALLY INSENSITIVE DEVELOPERS . . . SUPERFLUOUS TREES . . . ONLY THREE SETS OF TEES . . . SLOW PLAY . . . SLOW PLAY! . . . SLOW PLAY!! . . . ONE-IRONS . . . CLUBS RIGHT OFF THE RACK . . . TWO-IRONS . . . WHITE GOLF SHOES . . . THREE-IRONS . . . DRUNKEN HECKLERS . . . TESTY EUROS . . . BAD ADS . . . "BADS!" ADS . . . BAD ATTITUDES . . . MARTHA . . . HOOTIE . . . RICKY BARNES . . . TY TRYON . . . BEN CURTIS . . . HILLARY LUNKE . . . IAN POULTER'S STYLIST . . . TIM HERRON'S NUTRITIONIST . . . VIJAY'S PUBLICIST . . . TIGER'S MANY "SLUMPS"
HOT DESIGN CONCEPT
Yes, not only is it cool to build golf courses without moving half the universe to impose your vision on the land, but it's also actually kind of fun to let the earth whisper its intentions to you. Few hear it as acutely as architects Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, Gil Hanse, and Mike DeVries. Loosely, they're called minimalists, but the reputation of their handiwork is anything but; for a design "school" so small, the impact of minimalism is huge. That's partly due to the stature of Doak and Crenshaw, and partly to the beauty and playability of their masterworks: Doak's Pacific Dunes and Coore and Crenshaw's Sand Hills are the highest-ranked courses of any living designer.
Kingsbarns made Mark Parsinen a developer to reckon with when it opened in 2000 to hosannas as the best new links in Scotland since Turnberry. Since then, the American has spent the past three years assembling the elements for his follow-up acts: the third course at Cabo del Sol in Mexico (with Tom Doak), the fourth at Kapalua, a course near Inverness, and the highly anticipated next links at Carnoustie. At least one will begin construction this year. As for down the road, he and Mike Keiser have already shaken hands on the fourth course at Bandon. "To give projects the right attention," says Parsinen, "I will only do them at a certain rate, so they won't be spit out. But if I could keep opening one while I'm constructing another, I'd be a happy guy for the rest of my life." Given his goal of building accessible golf courses in remarkable settings, we'd be equally pleased.