Chung Shan’s genesis lies with the late Henry Fok, the club’s then owner and one of the richest men in the world. Fok already owned a nearby leisure resort, one of China’s first, and wanted to increase its recognition outside the country’s borders. The answer, says Timothy Fok, Henry’s son and International Olympic Committee member, was golf.
“The idea was to give the resort international status and golf fitted the bill,” remembers Fok. “Back then China was undergoing a lot of change – and although it was opening up, we had to be careful as golf was considered very elitist. We set ourselves very strict guidelines. For instance, we made sure that we would only build over the hillside and not on agricultural land.”
Fok was no stranger to the game. He had already employed the services of Arnold Palmer to build a course he owned in Japan, and it was the King he returned to with his plans for Chung Shan.
“It was a pleasant surprise when he asked us to become involved,” says Palmer. “[But] what I didn’t know when we took on this design project was that no golf course had been built on the Chinese mainland since World War I. Ed [Seay, Palmer’s late design partner] and I felt a sense of added responsibility since we were not only building a new course, we were introducing the game to the most populous nation on earth.”
Chung Shan is among 200 courses around the world that bear the Palmer name, but nowhere, he says, ranks anywhere close in terms of uniqueness.
“To call the experience eye-opening would be a gross understatement,” recalls Palmer. “The site was in the foothills of the Chung Shan mountain range, with a mountain on one side and rice paddies on the other. By our initial calculations we would move approximately four hundred thousand yards of dirt, not a huge amount by today’s course design standards but still a healthy earth-moving project. What I didn’t know at the time was that every ounce of dirt and rock would be moved by hand. The only bulldozer on the project was a WWI-vintage machine that belonged in the Smithsonian. The engine still worked, but nothing else moved, so for weeks thousands of Chinese workers moved the better half of a half-million yards of earth with shovels and burlap sacks. The rocks too big to fit in their sacks were carried on their heads. Boulders were ground to gravel by sledgehammers, with workers lined at the ready to remove the rocks when they were small enough to be carried away. It was an unbelievable sight.”
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