• Richard Mandell

A Golf Architect’s Travels in China

I recently made my seventh trip to China in the past year. The first two trips were to investigate new development opportunities and the other five were for a project we are undertaking at a very frantic pace. I documented my first trip in a past three-part blog which I will re-post here in upcoming weeks. It was memorable because of the four days I spent in quarantine during the height of the H1N1 flu scare.


To be honest at one point in that ordeal, while I was in the back of a Beijing ambulance on my way to my new digs courtesy of the Central Government, I made a pact with myself that I would never return to China again. Thankfully, I broke that pact and have come to enjoy my trips to the Far East.


I was particularly fortunate that I landed a new project in such a short time. The project is named Skydoor Golf Club and is in the Hunan Province town of Zhangjiajie. If you have seen the movie Avatar, you may recognize some of the memorable scenery from the movie that began as raw footage of mountains and rock formations in the Zhangjiajie National Forest.


That first trip to China was a purely speculative one to meet with a local golf construction/irrigation company that wanted to be my agents. I had no idea what to expect and decided the worst-case scenario would be just getting right back on the next plane to the States if no one was in Beijing to greet me. The good news was that somebody was there and we hit it off. Yet in the past two years they have brought only one lead to the table. My next trip to China was specifically to interview for the Skydoor Golf Club project, a lead I obtained through a twenty-year relationship with a landscape architecture firm in Atlanta.

The first reaction people have when they hear I fly to China on a regular basis is the length of time sitting on a plane. I absolutely love it, though. It is a great break from the constant travel and movement of the typical day to day operations of my business (it is still amazing to me that an organization of three people in such a specialization such as golf course architecture can create so much activity. I guess that is just what running any business in this day and age consists of). I get to chooses from hundreds of movies to watch on my own personal TV screen, read books, do work, or sleep.


A trip to China usually consists of leaving RDU Airport (Raleigh; closest to my home in Southern Pines, North Carolina) and connecting in Newark to a direct flight to Beijing. I have flown to Shanghai and Hong Kong as well. Whatever the destination, the flight is in the thirteen to fourteen hour range. With time zone changes, the result is I leave one morning and arrive the following afternoon. I gain that day back on my return.


Another question I get asked all the time is, “How’s your Mandarin”. Truthfully, it is non-existent. I know very little of the Chinese language because I am always afforded a translator, which has become my crutch. I have every intention of learning the language but because my daily life is so hectic, it hasn’t exactly worked out. I am determined, though, to at least learn about twenty key words fluently. What I know now are the words for hello, thank you, cold water, cold beer, and chopsticks. I am on the verge of mastering the word for you’re welcome, so stay tuned.


Luckily I have been blessed with the ability to sleep very well for extended periods on a plane. I don’t seem to suffer from jet lag. That is partially due to sleeping on the plane, but also because I am perpetually in jet lag mode on a daily basis (thanks in part to two children under six and many extra-curricular activities). My first trip to Zhangjiajie consisted of a two-hour layover in Shanghai and then a two-hour flight to Zhangjiajie. I arrived at a sleepy little airport around ten at night (thirty hours after I left my home in North Carolina) for my first meeting with three developers from the Southern China city of Shenzhen. The project manager (who spoke no English) picked me up along with two Chinese associates of mine who doubled as translators).


Instead of heading to my room for the night, I was whisked straight into a conference room to meet with my potential clients. Quickly, I was re-introduced to the wonderful aroma of tobacco smoke. Smoke-free public places have become so typical in America that we non-smokers take it for granted. But China is a free society when it comes to smoking and the smoke is prevalent and thick. Two hours and many second-hand cigarettes later, I was done and retired to my room. After three days of selling myself, inhaling tobacco smoke, and walking the site I returned home and was awarded the contract. My travels to China were just beginning…


About Richard: Richard Mandell is a Golf Course Architect in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Educated as a Landscape Architect at the University of Georgia (he is licensed in both North and South Carolina), Richard has close to two decades’ experience in designing new golf courses and renovating existing ones. Richard may also be the only golf architect in the world who is a certified arborist. He co-hosts a weekly golf radio talk show in Pinehurst and continues to teach a class on Golf Architecture at North Carolina State University which he started in 1997. Mr. Mandell also wrote the award-winning book, Pinehurst ~ Home of American Golf - The Evolution of a Legend (International Network of Golf Book of the Year – 2007).


Richard Mandell has been a Golf Content Creator for the Washington Times Communities since October 20, 2008

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