Golf achieves the seemingly impossible by neatly combining a meeting, an incentive and a bit of sporting competition in one package. The game has had an interesting history in Asia; today it seems to enjoy the same level of dedication amongst business types as it does in Europe and America. Just 20 years ago, though, it was actually illegal in China to swing a club at a ball. Since becoming a permissible pastime, though, the annual growth in the number of Chinese players has been marked at around 25 per cent. In fact, Chinese players are expected to make up almost half of all the world’s golfers by 2020.
This is great news for the Asian golf industry. As a result, the number of world-class resorts in the region has soared in the last two decades. Today, people from all over the world flock to play 18 holes in some of the most lush, tropical and picturesque places on the planet. Many of these visitors embrace the long-standing association between golf and business by teeing off important meetings on the fairway. Mix takes a swing at some of the best courses in Asia.
1. Nirwana Bali Golf Club, Bali, Indonesia
Pitch: The Nirwana Bali Golf Club is considered by the experts at Golf Digest magazine to be the number-one course in Indonesia. With its spectacular views overlooking Bali’s Tanah Lot temple and the Indian Ocean, it’s clear why. This award-winning course was designed by the golf icon Greg Norman and presents players with five ocean-side fairways, three cliff-edged tee shots and eight holes that wind around terraced paddy fields. It’s so beautiful that the seventh hole is said to be one of the most photographed golf greens in the world.
Hook: The course is part of the Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort, which has 10 dedicated function rooms. Meetings can be held in spaces ranging from small conference rooms to an outdoor, lagoon-side reception area and a grand, 600-capacity ballroom. The resort offers dedicated golf meeting packages, which include free golf lessons for all participants.
• Residential meeting packages from US$295 per night including a deluxe garden view room
• Afternoon neck massages for delegates
• One golf lesson for all delegates
• One cycling tour
• 10 per cent discount on all spa treatments and restaurants
2. Laguna Lang Co Golf Club, Danang, Vietnam
Pitch: The newly completed Laguna Lang Co resort in Central Vietnam is proving to be a big hit amongst golfers. Indeed, it has been referred to as one of the most exciting destinations to open in the last few years. At the heart of the resort – which features luxury hotel options from Banyan Tree and Angsana – is an 18-hole championship course designed by golf legend Sir Nick Faldo. The six-time major winner’s association plays second fiddle to the course setting, however. Players can expect to tee off next to rice paddy fields, drive their balls down forest-lined fairways and putt in front of a spectacular mountain backdrop.
Hook: Danang is a relatively undiscovered part of Vietnam, but Laguna Lang Co is currently being pitched as the country’s only world-class resort. As such, this brand-new facility has a dedicated events team who can plan any incentive trip, conference or small-scale meeting. On site, the Banyan Tree has a 12-person conference room, whilst Angsana has four meeting rooms and a 392 sqm ballroom which can be used for gala events and conferences of up to 200 people.
• Two hotels service the course and provide extensive meeting facilities
• Resort integration allows meetings to be booked through a single master account
3. Sentosa Golf Club, Sentosa, Singapore
Pitch: Said to be the most beautiful golf club in Singapore, the Sentosa Golf Club was first opened in 1974. The Serapong course is the most popular; designed by renowned golfing architect Ron Freemon, it was originally opened in 1982. In 2007, it was revamped and lengthened and in 2012 the course was voted best in Singapore at the Asian Golf Monthly awards. A large lagoon is found at the heart of the course and it presents a dangerous water hazard for many of the holes. The scenery, however, constantly changes throughout any game and players will experience panoramic views of the port of Singapore, downtown skyscrapers and, on clear days, Batam Island in Indonesia.
Hook: This mature club is well set up to accommodate meeting and incentive trips with seven dedicated conference rooms. Small gatherings can take place in one of the 10-person boardrooms, while 450-person cocktail receptions are possible in the Grand Salon, which overlooks the golf course.
• US$68 per person for a full-day meeting
• US$40 discount from green fees for all meeting attendees
4. Mission Hills, Shenzhen, China
Pitch: It would be impossible not to mention the Shenzhen project from the Mission Hills portfolio in any roundup of Asian golf destinations. This unbelievable location has been officially recognised as the largest golf resort in the world by Guinness. Many of the 12 courses have been designed by golf legends including Jack Nicklaus, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Nick Faldo and Zhang Lian Wei. The sprawling facility also has 3,000 caddies, all of whom are female, and a host of hotel, spa and dining options.
Hook: With a daily shuttle bus from Hong Kong, Mission Hills Shenzen is one of the most accessible courses for business trips to Asia. The resort’s five-star hotel is located within the grounds of the golf courses and a dedicated meeting team can put together comprehensive packages for almost any occasion. Around 800 square metres of meeting space is available for guests, with the Grand Ballroom capable of hosting up to 350 people.
• Full-day package from US$54
• Grand Ballroom can host 350 people
• All rooms complete with LCD screens and wireless broadband
5. Mission Hills, Hainan, China
Pitch: Mission Hills is arguably the number-one name in Asian golf. One of the company’s three major resorts, Mission Hills Hainan has been in operation since 2011, and has proven extremely popular with the Chinese business elite. Often referred to as the Hawaii of China, Hainan is the only tropical destination in the country. Situated on a dormant volcano, the construction seems to have achieved the impossible and is worth the trip alone. All 10 courses have been carved out of a volcanic lava field. In 2012, the course was voted “Golf Resort of the Year – Rest of the World Category” by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), following the successful hosting of two international competitions: 2010’s Mission Hills Star Trophy and 2011’s prestigious Omega Mission Hills World Cup.
Hook: Recognising the importance of the business meeting and incentive market, Mission Hills’ masterminds built the resort with that audience in mind. The facility features an 18-storey hotel with 518 rooms, 12 restaurants and a grand ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,600 delegates at any one time. Similarly, a number of smaller breakout spaces and boardrooms mean that even intimate CEO get-togethers can be catered for.
• Full-day package from US$54
• Mission Hills Grand Ballroom can accommodate 1,600 delegates
• Five separate multifunction meeting rooms offer flexible setups
• All rooms boast LCD screens and wireless broadband
• Dedicated event planning team
6. Nine Bridges, Jeju, South Korea
Pitch: Although South Koreans, particularly in Seoul, have a fondness for golf, here in Jeju it’s a much less frequent affair. Nine Bridges has strict restrictions on the number of non-members it can accommodate, but that’s part of the selling point. Opened in 2001, the course is designed to be similar to courses found in the Scottish Highlands, the home of golf. It’s taken a lot of work to create a course in Asia with such a mature aesthetic, but it’s widely regarded as being a success. Some guests claim it looks a lot like rural Perthshire, making it the best Asian destination for those looking for the real McCoy – minus the Scottish weather, of course.
Hook: Nine Bridges has only one dedicated meeting room, set amidst the fairways. The facility can seat up to 80 people and glass walls mean that delegates are treated to incredible views of the course. With such beautifully manicured vistas, the biggest challenge is keeping attendees’ attention on the task at hand. Currently, playing on the course is limited to members, but arrangements may be possible for meeting groups on a case-by-case basis.
• 80-person meeting room
• LCD screens and wireless internet access
7. Hirno Golf Club, Kobe, Japan
Pitch: Japan has more golf courses than anywhere else in Asia. In fact, with around 2,300 to choose from, it accounts for almost half of all the courses available in the region. If, however, you’re planning a large-scale event or boisterous boys-only golf break, the country’s most celebrated spot, Hirno Golf Club, is not the place to do it. This ultra-exclusive course is difficult to book, hard to get onto and, therefore, one of the best incentive destinations that money can’t buy. The course was designed by Englishman Charles Alison in 1932 and is set amidst a lush forest of pine trees and ancient bamboo parkland. It’s famed for its treacherous bunkers – Alisons as they’re known in Japan, taking their creator’s name – and is for skilled golfers only.
Hook: The real selling point of this course is the exclusivity. The only way non-members can gain access is through a well-connected, specialist tour organiser. Hirno is also one of the world’s most beautiful courses. As an incentive, 18 holes of the inland pine landscape is a real “money can’t buy” experience. Similarly, it offers a discreet location for meetings and will really demonstrate to any partners that you take their business – and the business of golf – particularly seriously.
• Highly exclusive and extremely private
Link: It may be possible to organise games through specialist golf booking website: golfti.com