The task was daunting: Try to top the Guinness Book's world-record holder for the largest golf club on earth. It hasn't happened yet, but the Mission Hills Resort Haikou is poised to knock its predecessor off its lofty perch. Mission Hills' Shenzhen facility on the Chinese mainland earned the record in 2004 with 10 courses and three clubhouses.
The course count there now numbers 12. Seven years later, its Hainan Island sibling (an hour's flight to the south) is well on its way, with 10 courses. The leadoff hitter at Haikou is China's first true tournament track, the aptly named Blackstone. Architect Brian Curley sculpted a massive layout from ancient black volcanic rock, which borders nearly every fairway, eliminating the need for conventional rough.
The lava rock will challenge teams in the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, to be played here November 24-27. Still, for the defending champion Molinari brothers of Italy and for Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and partner Graeme McDowell, among others, the primary perils might be the jungle-edged ravines, the gargantuan bunkers ringing the greens and the sheer length itself. If organizers wanted to test the best—as well as smacking around the average resort guest—this is Mission accomplished.
Stoneforest International Country Club
Kunming, Yunnan, China
7,528 yards, par 72
Green fees: $120-$230
Looking for the most unique and spectacular new inland course in the world? You'll find it at Stoneforest International Country Club, located at 6,500 feet in the mountains of southwestern China.
Stoneforest is a complex of three courses, the 'A' (Yufeng Ridge); the 'B' (Master's Resort); and the 'C' (Leaders' Peak). While the 7,203-yard 'B' is considered the club's tournament course and sports some rock-solid moments of its own, the 'A', which opened in November, and the 'C,' which debuted in June, are the stars. The courses hug the edge of the Stone Forest, which is part of a national scenic area, and weave through astonishing limestone pillars that resemble a petrified forest.
Architect Brian Curley managed to emphasize strategy and playability while avoiding gimmickry, allowing each layout to yield to the setting. The result is pure fun, with dozens of thrilling encounters with the multicolored monoliths.
Highlights on the 7,241-yard 'A' include the par-4 8th, par-4 13th and par-3 16th, each cocooned by rock spires. The 'C' course wins best in show, though, for the early holes that tumble through mature pines and later holes such as the mind-boggling, short par-4 11th (above) and the all-or-nothing par-3 12th. You may never make the journey to get here, but take it from one who has: This place rocks!
(Photo: John and Jeannine Henebry)