Canadian Neil Haworth has overall responsibility for the operations of Nelson & Haworth worldwide, excepting the United States. He relocated from Singapore to Shanghai, China, and has designed in China, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club (the longest course in the world); Shenzhen Golf Club, and Sheshan International Golf club (host of the European tour HSBC Champions); and in Malaysia, Shan Shui Golf and Country Club and Tiara Melaka Golf and Country Club. In Thailand, he created Royal Hills Golf Club.
On my first trip into China, in 1992, I took the train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou where someone, amongst the millions of people loitering around the old train station, met me with a sign.
I was being driven, along with my Australian design partner, to the site, when we had to stop at a railway crossing because of a train. As soon as the train passed, cars on both sides of the road crammed in to try to get across first. Needless to say, nobody could pass through and it took an additional two hours just to make our way through the traffic jam.
Once we reached the site – a beautiful piece of land with rolling hills and mandarin orange and lychee trees dotting the landscape – we were to review the centerline staking and field the design. The Chinese surveyor followed our staking plan, which showed one-meter high white stakes at thirty-meter spacing along the centerlines of each hole.
One of the par-threes played over an existing, eight-meter-deep reservoir. The surveyor, following our instructions to the letter, had actually planted the stakes in the bottom of the lake! Sticking out of the water, exactly one meter high, were white stakes every thirty meters!
The next day the earthworks contractor was to mobilize. We thought we would meet with him, ask him about the machinery he had, and find out what schedule he was working on. It turned out the earthworks contractor was the head of a local village and the rice season had finished the day before, so all of the more than 2,000 farmers showed up with there families ready to work on the golf course.
Each farmer could move three cubic meters a day, so each day the contractor moved 6,000 cubic meters – or 180,000 per month! That fit the construction schedule and gave me a new perspective on field changes: asking them to shift a mound 10 meters involved a crew of several hundred people and lasted a week or so!
To get back to Hong Kong we had to board a train, which stopped at the local village. The driver dropped us off at the train station, but once we got inside, we noticed the train ticket was printed in Chinese. We knew what time the train was supposed to come, but could not read the signs to determine whether it was on time or which direction it would be going. Trains were stopping every 10 minutes! As we studied the Chinese map, the sun position, and the stars trying to navigate our way out of there, a Chinese man came up and, in a perfect Australian accent, asked my Australian partner which part of Australia he was from. The fellow had returned home to his Chinese village for the first time in over twenty years and happened to be listening to our dilemma. I’m not sure what would have happened to us if he had not shown up.
About ten years ago we were asked by a famous Australian architect to visit a site in Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal. It was probably the best trip I have taken during my fifteen years living in Asia.
We left Yangon about 5 p.m. and drove for about three hours before stopping. There were no bridges at the time, and we had missed the last ferry across the river, so we had to stay overnight at a local government hotel.
Our Singaporean client had arranged for us to meet the local general, who showed up the next morning in his 4X4 accompanied by three flatbed trucks loaded with armed soldiers. We met with him briefly then set off to take the ferry.
After crossing the river we had to drive for about three hours. Since the main road had been washed out during the rainy season, we had to take a winding road over the mountains and down to a local fishing village. From there we took a local fishing boat with a military escort – because there were lots of pirates in the waters – about an hour down the coast. We viewed some of the most beautiful, unspoiled coastline anywhere in the world before we arrived at another local village. From there, accompanied by locals carrying our bags on their heads, we walked through rice paddies, and passed through local villages full of people who I am sure had never seen white people before.
The monastery and the village chief were the only ones with electricity, but the power was only turned on between 7 and 9 p.m. We were treated to a home-cooked meal of fresh fish and vegetables before “lights-out.”
The next morning we woke up and walked the site again.
I gave some of my opinions to the architect.
“We’ve come all this way and the site is back in the hills with no views of the Bay of Bengal,” I said. “It would be nice at least to have a few holes with sea views.”
We agreed to have another look at the master when we got back.
On the way back the client wanted to show the architect a potential source of stone for some of the buildings. While they did that, I walked to a high point and overlooked a beautiful piece of land like Pebble Beach, Cypress and Pacific Dunes all combined! When the client and architect got back I asked them a question.
“Could we put the golf course on this waterfront piece of land?”
“Sure,” they said. “We’ve got four thousand acres to work with.”
It was getting a little late now and we had to make the same journey back: hiking through the rice fields, a boat ride, and then three hours in the car in order to catch the last ferry. If we missed the ferry, the closest hotel was in the local village where the dock was. After the hike and the boat ride, we were driving down the hills and hit a perfectly straight and flat stretch of road for about forty-five minutes before getting to the river.
We were late, it was dark, and for forty-five minutes nobody said a word, but the screaming in the car was undeniably loud when we all suddenly saw the reflection of our headlights in the river! The car went airborne off the end of the road over the riverbank, with locals scattering out of the way. We landed in wheel deep water.
Everyone was okay, and after laughing about it, we realized that we had missed the boat, which was docked on the other side of the river. The driver flashed his lights to get the attention of the ferry captain, and after a minute or so the captain flashed his lights in return, and then came back to get us. Apparently the general we had breakfast with the day before had instructed the boat captain to look out for us in case we were late.
Unfortunately, after all that, what would have been an amazingly scenic course never got built.
The local Burmese people there in Myanmar, in my opinion, are the kindest and gentlest in all of Asia. The dictatorship there is obviously a tragic situation. One of my favourite spots is the Yangon Yacht Club on the lake, where all the generals live and where Aung San Su Kyi (a pro-democracy leader and advocate of non-violent resistance) is kept under house arrest. The lake, therefore, has never been commercially developed. Since I can sit at a picnic table there and drink Labatt Blue and eat pizza, it reminds me of my home in Canada.
A day before the British handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, I was asked by Sun Hung Kai group to come and do a quick feasibility study for a forty-five-hole golf course they would build in conjunction with the Disney project, which, at that time, was in the planning stages.
They had already found a hotel room for me, and first class seats on Singapore Airlines, so I was on my way. I visited the site and did a quick study revealing they would have to cut thirty-million cubic meters of rock and remove it from the site if they wanted to build the golf course. That news put them off of building the course!