Moving mountains, filling valleys all par for the course
Few can imagine that miles upon miles of hilly terrain, mountains and valleys and dense forest can, in the span of 14 months, be transformed into a series of five golf courses.
But such a vision was clear in the minds of American architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt, who had the job of creating the group of Mission Hills courses, including the Olazabal course which will host this weekend's World Cup.
Originally, the land was not lush nor was it gentle or instinctively conducive to building a golf course.
'Basically, you had 45-degree slopes everywhere and all this rock which is not conducive to growing turf,' said Curley, whose company has designed 10 of the 12 courses at Mission Hills.
It was one thing to completely overhaul and transform a piece of land, it was another to simultaneously carry out this task for five courses. To further complicate the matter, there was the expectation of expediency without sacrificing any of the quality.
Curley started with a topographic map that detailed contours, undulations and identified locations where he could place a fairway that would not end up on the side of a hill.
Whereas course design typically begins with questions of grading, character, bunkering and fairways, the land in Shenzhen needed to first be transformed into land that would allow golf to be played.
In designing the course with Jose Maria Olazabal, Curley first went to Atlanta to meet the two-time Masters champion to help conceptualise the course, which would include dramatic bunkering as its defining characteristic.
'We were trying to make all of the five courses distinctly different and early on we talked about introducing a lot of sand and doing a certain style of bunkering,' Curley said.
Translating those over-arching themes into an actual course took a different approach. A thousand pieces of equipment was used to move the dirt and thousands of workers were employed to form the courses. While some of the courses literally involved the moving of mountains, Curley said the Olazabal course kept much of its natural surroundings.
'One of the nice things was that we [were able to] take advantage of the landscape,' Curley said. 'We filled valleys to create flat areas of golf as opposed to having to cut hills down. One of the main things I want to achieve is to preserve as much of the tree areas as possible.'
During construction, Olazabal made a few visits to the site, walking the unfinished course and making adjustments and improvements along the way. His reactions were not unlike those of the other players involved in course design.
'If anything, they tend to toughen [the course] up as opposed to relaxing it and making it easier,' Curley said. 'It's not that they have a total disregard for the average player, but they feel their role is to create a venue that is as challenging as they can make it without getting to the point where it is unplayable [and] people say, 'I'm giving up' and going home.'
Eremikophobia sufferers be warned - Olazabal has created your worst nightmare
1 Designer: Jose Maria Olazabal, winner US Masters (1994, 1999), winning Ryder Cup team member (1987, 1997, 2006), winning Alfred Dunhill Cup team member (1999, 2000)
2 Workforce: Over 3,000 workers using 600 machines. Course completed in 2003
3 Total distance: 7,400 yards, par 72
4 Makeup: par-threes - 5, par-fours - 9, par-fives - 4
5 Signature hole: 15th - 580 yards, par-five ... and 26 of the course's 155 feared bunkers