VISA-FREE GOLF OPTIONS IN CHINA

Story & Photos by: Rick Stedman

With a recent change in visa policy for short-term visits to the People’s Republic of China, a golf trip is now easier than ever for those wanting to experience some of the most picturesque and unique golf courses on the planet. This visa-free option is available to 51 countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

Currently, a U.S. – China visa is good for 10 years. However, for the adventuresome who’d like to visit China without the expense of the $190 visa fee and six-week visa application period, a new program should get your attention.

As of January 2016, it is now possible to visit Shanghai for up to 144 hours visa-free, if you are en route to destinations like Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan for example. The key is you have to be just “passing through” to another destination. In addition to Shanghai, Jiangsu Province and Zhejiang Province are also included in this 144-hour visa-free policy. Thus, you could golf up to six full days while visiting Shanghai, which has some of the best golf courses in China.

China as a country offers more than 600 golf courses, featuring some of the best golf in Asia. China’s total number of courses pale in comparison to the United States, which has about 15,000 courses. However, you won’t find any “municipal type” golf courses in China, a country of 1.4 billion. Rather, most every course is a private club located on the outskirts of major cities, and usually behind closed gates that are manned by security guards.

Such was the case when I recently visited the town of Wenzhou, a two-hour flight south of Shanghai. After climbing a winding hill and passing through a few gates, the last one with a guard, we arrived at the Orient Wenzhou Yangyi Country Club. The parent company, Orient Golf International Ltd., owns and operates more than 60 quality courses throughout China in the cities of Beijing, Taipei, Xiamen, Wuhan, Wenzhou, Zhuhai, Dalian, Ningbo, and Shanghai.

Chinese Golf Courses

Golfing in China is more formal than most other countries. Caddies are part of the game.

Golf courses in China are measured in yards, not meters, and are governed by the R&A Rules of Golf, not USGA rules. The par 72 Wenzhou Orient Golf Club overlooks the 9.2 million residents of the city below, and stretches to 7,057 yards from the championship tees. Not many golf courses in the world have a Buddhist temple as a backdrop, which added to the beauty of the extremely well-manicured Wenzhou Orient Golf Club. On the day we golfed, my two playing partners, Rob Stephens, Tim Sansom, and I were the only non-Asians on the course, proof that the sport is gaining in popularity throughout the country. The golf cart could accommodate up to six riders; four golfers and two caddies. Also, the scorecard suggested the pace of play for a foursome: 4 hours 20 minutes.

Golfing in China is more formal than most other countries. Caddies are part of the game. There’s no tipping involved, however. The Chinese do not want employees begging for tips, thus the policy. As such, we had two caddies assigned to our three-some. And though the caddies spoke hardly any English, we all spoke the language of golf! There simply wasn’t a communication problem. They were very well versed in golf course management, and knew exactly which club to hit from every location on the course. This helped immensely when faced with several blind shots.

On the day we golfed, my two playing partners, (L-R) Tim Sansom, Rick Stedman and Rob Stephens were the only non-Asians on the course.

Tim Sansom from Toronto, also enjoyed his first-time golfing experience in China. “The Wenzhou golf course was very picturesque, and you knew by the surroundings that you were in China,” said Tim. “The staff were all extremely friendly and accommodating, but English was not prevalent, so it made for some interesting hand signals. The caddies’ English was good enough with two expressions: ‘good shot’ and ‘out of bounds!’ Also, it was cool to have caddies, and be in a four-man golf cart.”

Cost for club rentals and nine holes of golf was about $100 U.S. Green fees at some courses in China can run upwards of $200 during the week, and much higher on the weekend.

In addition to the Buddhist temple, one of the most interesting photo ops on the course was the yellow triangle sign that sported a picture of a cobra snake; the caption read in Chinese: Beware of poisonous snakes! Needless to say, we left a few golf balls in the out-of-bounds area that day!

A yellow triangle sign that sported a picture of a cobra snake.

In the town of Wenzhou, I stayed at the Shangri-La Hotel, about a 40-minute drive to the golf course. Located in the central business district adjacent the International Convention and Exhibition Center, the upscale Shangri-La Hotel overlooks the Oujiang River, and offers spectacular river and mountain views. Customer service is a hallmark of this hotel, which is part of a worldwide offering of quality Shangri-La hotels. Executive Assistant Manager Margaret Wu set a new standard for customer service. When I inquired about golfing, she immediately called and set up everything, including arranging round trip transportation to and from the golf course. Customer service doesn’t get any better than that!

If you’re looking for an Asian golf adventure, consider the quality options available in the People’s Republic of China. You will not be disappointed.

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