Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club steals the show in Hong Kong
November 02, 2016
By Laury Livsey, PGATOUR.COM
- Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club is a hidden gem in the New Territories of Hong Kong. (Courtesy Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club)
HONG KONG—No offense to the Ping An Bank China Tour – PGA TOUR China Series players here for the inaugural Clearwater Bay Open, but the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club is likely going to be the star this week.
The par-70 layout is a stunner.
China’s Zihao Chen got his initial look at the course Monday—10 months after playing another famous, seaside course for the first time.
“I played Pebble Beach last Christmas time. I think this course and that one have the same style. I think we’ll enjoy playing this golf course very much,” said Chen, seventh on the Order of Merit with two runner-up finishes this season. “The wind will be the most challenging thing.”
At 6,600 yards—officially 6,599 for the tournament—the wind is what provides Clearwater Bay its defense.
“The course is not that long, but it plays a tough 6,600,” says Peter Downie, a transplanted Scot who serves as both general manager and director of golf. “I think the players will find that it plays longer than 6,600. You have to keep your ball in the fairway. The fairways are generous, but the rough is snarly.”
In Downie’s Scottish brogue—Downie got his start in golf as a caddie at Muirfield in Gullane—snarly sounds somewhat sinister.
“And you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the pin. You shortside yourself around here, and you’re going to take a number,” he added.
When asked, Downie, who is in his second stint working at Clearwater Bay (first from 2002 to 2007 and again starting in 2014), estimated 16-under will win this week. “But if [the wind] really blows, it could go down to 12.”
Downie has seen his fair share of top-level professionals come through Hong Kong over the years, making their way to the city’s New Territories to play the course. Whether it’s Justin Rose, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell or Ian Poulter, to a man, their immediate responses have been, “How did I not know about this place?”“This is my first time playing golf in Hong Kong, and I think this is the most beautiful golf course I’ve ever played,” said Xinjun Zhang. (Courtesy Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club)
A year ago, in conjunction with Augusta National Golf Club, Clearwater Bay hosted the Asia-Pacific Amateur, giving many people a glimpse of the course for the first time. And with the Series here this week, additional exposure is on its way.
“This is my first time playing golf in Hong Kong, and I think this is the most beautiful golf course I’ve ever played,” said Xinjun Zhang, No. 5 on the Order of Merit and coming off a top-25 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions last week in Shanghai (tie for 21st, with Matt Kuchar).
While Chen likens the course to Pebble Beach, the host site of the PGA TOUR’s AT&T Pebble Beach National doesn’t have views of the ocean on every hole like Clearwater Bay does.
“This is the most impressive piece of property that I’ve ever seen a golf course on,” said American Mark Baldwin, who has played most of his career in Asia. “This place has a bit of Hawaii in it. Then you have the city element and the multi-cultural aspect. Being here in Hong Kong gives you all the good things you hope to experience when you travel and play golf.”
One thing Clearwater Bay will offer this week will be its TifEagle bermudagrass greens, putting surfaces that will likely be a touch slower than what pros are used to seeing. Again, the wind is the reason.
“We keep the greens to around 10.5 on the Stimpmeter,” Downie explained. “We could get them a lot faster, but if it blows out here, especially on the exposed holes 13 and 17, we fear the ball will start moving, wobbling.”
So slower greens, rough that is “snarly” and, of course, the wind should make for an interesting 72 holes.
The front nine has three par 3s, two-par 5s and par-4s that are all under 400 yards. But the four par-4s on the back nine are all considerably longer, at 468 yards (No. 10), 460 yards (No. 12), 454 yards (No. 13) and 409 yards (No. 17). The closing 18th is a dogleg-left, 543-yard par-5 that will undoubtedly reward and punish this week—depending on how players chose to play it.
“From the sounds of it, they’re going to keep the rough high all week—they’re not going to cut it. So playing from the fairway will be crucially important,” said Baldwin of the course’s paspalum grass used in the rough.
And a smiling Downie is happy his course is serving as host this week, regardless of where players are hitting their shots.
“We’re trying to elevate golf not just for the club but for Hong Kong and regionally in China. That was one of the reasons we got involved with PGA TOUR China in the first place. This is a part of giving back, giving the young, up-and-coming guys an opportunity to play in a good surrounding, on a good golf course, in the good weather that we have this time of year.”