Financial Times Weekend Magazine: “Golf’s secret boom in Hainan, China”

FT Weekend Magazine - January 2/3, 2010My Financial Times Weekend Magazine cover story about the highly secretive development of the world’s largest collection of golf courses on southern China’s Hainan Island came out over the weekend, and so far the reception has been largely positive. Popular golf blogs and sports blogs have tossed around the word “fascinating,” so that’s a good sign. Go here to see if you agree.

Here’s how the story begins:

If you are flying into Haikou from the west, you can see it. Sit on the right-hand side of the aircraft and look out of your window. It’s there. Viewed from above, this vast swathe of land may not look like much — fuzzy green vegetation, shadowy pockets of volcanic rock, incongruous veins of reddish brown soil — but in a couple of years it will make history. Locals refer to this area by its code name: Project 791. Soon, most people will know it as Mission Hills Hainan, the ­largest collection of golf courses in the world.

The scope of the multi-billion-dollar project is staggering. It occupies 80sq km of forest and shrubland — an area the size of Hong Kong island – in north-east Hainan, the island province long touted as China’s answer to Hawaii. Once completed, it will feature 22 golf courses, at a stroke doubling the number on Hainan today. It’s been in the works since 2006 and for more than two years, thousands of workers have been clearing trees, moving soil, building greens, fairways, clubhouses and luxury hotels.

And yet aspects of the project remain as mysterious as the island on which it sits. In fact, the man most closely connected to the Mission Hills venture in Hainan denies its very existence. [Continue reading]

The photos for the story were shot by Shanghai-based documentary photographer Ryan Pyle, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek and other major publications. Be sure to look at the embedded PDF below to see how Ryan’s images looked in the magazine. I suggest the full-screen option.