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Interview: The man who brought world-class golf to Kunming

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Recently US magazine Golf Digest selected what it considered to be China's top ten golf courses, with three of the top six courses being in Kunming. Perhaps surprisingly for those unfamiliar with golf in China, the top two courses are both located at the same resort - Spring City Golf and Lake Resort in the Yangzonghai resort area, approximately 45 kilometers southeast of Kunming.

How did Kunming end up having the two best courses in China? GoKunming spoke with Spring City General Manager Arthur Yeo - who has been involved in the Spring City project since its inception in the early 1990s - about the challenges and rewards of building a world-class travel destination in Kunming:

GoKunming: Spring City's Mountain and Lake Courses were recently named the top two courses in China - what other awards has Spring City won in the last few years?

Arthur Yeo: In the last few years we have won many awards - we average about 10 per year – it would be too lengthy to mention all of them.

However, some of the more significant awards are: Best Golf Course in China and Hong Kong by US Golf Digest [1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007 - they rank once in every two years], Best 500 Holes in the World in 2000 [18th hole mountain course designed by Jack Nicklaus] awarded by US Golf Magazine, Best Golf Course in Asia awarded by Asia Golf Monthly from 2004 to 2007, 100 Best Courses outside US ranked by US Golf Digest in 2005 & 2007 [ranked once every 2 years] and Best Golf Resort in China by World Travel Award [London] from 2005 to 2007

GK: How does Spring City overcome the challenge of having the best courses in China but being far from the coast?

Yeo: The recipe is a combination of good design, good construction adhering strictly to USGA specifications, good greenskeeping practice, good service management, spring-like weather all year round and being located in a very picturesque location with mountains and a lake.

This unique combination entices people to make Spring City Golf & Lake Resort a specific must-visit destination. Once they have visited the resort, they always come back again with their friends.

GK: What regions do Spring City's guests come from these days? Where do Kunming residents fit into the picture?

Yeo: Our overseas guests are typically from Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea but we also have many local Chinese guests. We are also attracting a growing number of expatriates working and living in China – they tend to be from the USA, Australia and Europe.

Also, the number of golfers in Kunming is growing very fast and they form our bread-and-butter players.

GK: Yunnan has some of the best courses in China, do you think it can become synonymous with golf holidays like Florida in the US?

Yeo: Currently, no, as the number of golf courses in Yunnan is limited to seven at present.

However, this could happen in the future. Florida is a very established and developed golf community as compared with the Yunnan golf industry, which only started up 10 years ago.

GK: As golf becomes a more established sport in China and fewer new courses are built, what trends do you foresee for courses and golf as a sport in general around the country in the next few years?

Yeo: The development of golf has a positive impact on the economic and social development of the country - the current trend is that there are more and more golf courses popping up in China even with the central government clamping down on the development of golf courses nationwide. Also, there is a rapid increase in the number of Chinese learning and taking up golf.

Golfing in China will explode, however, the central government in my opinion should not curb the development of golf but rather monitor and control a healthy development of the golf industry in China. More emphasis should be given to:

1. Increasing education in golf maintenance and management to make sure that there are sufficient qualified people running and managing golf courses

2. Ensuring that minimal potential farmland is being used for golf development

3. Ensuring that quality golf courses are being built in a way that maximizes the use of land resources

4. Using 'green belts' within cities to develop public golf courses for public access at a reasonable price

5. Implementing strict environmental guidelines and controls for golf course developers in order to protect the environment.

Related article: China's top ten golf courses: Kunming is king

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