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Mission Hills Golf Club – Norman Course
Course Opened – 2004
Designers – Greg Norman, Bob Harrison
Pictures by David Scaletti

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Less than an hour from the Hong Kong border, Mission Hills is an enormous resort and residential development with ten golf courses spread over three sites between the relatively affluent Chinese cities of Shenzhen and Dongguan. Though each course is named after a prominent golf identity, such as Jumbo Ozaki, David Duval, Ernie Els, Annika Sorenstam and even teaching professional David Leadbetter, eight were actually built by a two-man design team. The original World Cup Course and the Norman Course are the exceptions and, not surprisingly, the standouts.

The Jack Nicklaus designed World Cup Course opened on the resort’s Shenzhen site in 1994 with the nine subsequent courses all completed in less than a decade and the final five, built in the hills of Dongguan, taking just two years to build. The Norman Course was the tenth and final layout to open at what is now the world's largest golf complex and is one of the most difficult tests in all of Asia. It was created by Greg Norman’s Australian design team, headed by Bob Harrison and Harley Kruse, who were offered first choice of the huge and hilly property for their layout. Although some serious grading and earth moving was required, their chosen land was the most golf-friendly on site. The more open front nine tends to wander atop steep ridges and hug a series of hillsides whilst the tighter back nine is mostly set down in two deep valley floors and surrounded by heavily forested mountain slopes that create an attractive backdrop for the golf.

With a distinct lack of the repetitive cliché design found elsewhere at the resort, this is clearly the most attractive and original of the ten courses. It is also unquestionably the toughest, with the narrow fairways bordered by thick native grasses, dense forest vegetation and sharply cut sand faced bunkers that are deep and punishing throughout the course. Approach play is also tricky as the greens and fringes are heavily contoured and cut short to allow a variety of recovery shot options. As a set they probably don’t work quite as well as some of the other greens by this team but the small crests, false fronts and run off areas create interesting situations and do blend naturally with their surrounds.

While the course enjoys excellent views, good golf terrain and a number of fine holes like the 1st, 2nd, 7th and 17th, ultimately what keeps it from more elite company are the few holes that seem excessively difficult. These include a couple on the back nine which are cut through hills and bunkered to force the better player to lay-up but leave the average golfer still needing to pierce two hills with a driver and dissect a very tight fairway to keep the ball in play. There is also the slender kidney-shaped par three 4th, which is remarkably similar to Norman’s 14th at Doonbeg and stands out as the only green totally surrounded by trouble, the left side falling into oblivion and probably too severe for the caliber of golfer who plays here.

The Norman Course at Mission Hills may be a bruising examination, but a round here is thoroughly enjoyable and, along with the chance to play the original World Cup Course, is reason enough to visit this incredible golf destination.