The club brochure describes it as 'a definitive Scottish highlands course'; to me, it had a feel of Perthshire - Gleneagles perhaps? - while Duke Ishikawa, a far-travelled and much admired Japanese golf journalist, called it: 'Superb, and rather like North Berwick.'
Whatever, Nine Bridges golf course on the Korean honeymoon island of Jeju is a great place to visit. I was there last week, while England's football team will be among the first group of international visitors later this month.
Sven-Goran Eriksson and his troops are to spend a week in Jeju in the build-up to the World Cup. The highlights will be a friendly against South Korea at the new Seogwipo World Cup stadium on May 21 and, even better(?), 18 holes at Nine Bridges.
The course is the brainchild of Seoul businessman, Jay Lee, and is a ground-breaker in Korean terms. Lee's dream was to create the first westernised golf resort in his part of the world, and have a course good enough to attract world-class tournaments. The ultimate aim is to be ranked among the world's top 100 courses.
With thousands of tons of sand imported from China, some great work by American greenkeeping consultant, Jim Connolly, and much hard work by the local workforce, everything is going according to plan.
The course officially opened just last August, and Duke Ishikawa, a panelist for Golf Magazine's 100 Greatest Golf Courses in the World, is already on side. 'It's a wonderful lay-out; I'm very impressed,' he admitted. 'North Berwick is one of my favourite places in the world, and this course did remind me of the West Links.'
With 25 cottages and villas on sit - and another 22 in the pipeline - plus a spa for apres-golf relaxation, Nine Bridges is a place to be pampered, and should soon be a magnet for overseas visitors.
At present there are 400 Korean members but the intention is to open the doors to include an international membership programme, with China, Japan and Seoul-based exiles the immediate target.
'At the moment, we operate on the same principle as Muirfield,' explained Englishman David Smith, chairman of the club's advisory board. 'Anyone can be invited to play through a letter of introduction.'
This season's Muirfield Club champion is already on the guest list for one of three major events to be held later this year. In September, the champions from the top 12 in the 'best 100 list' - St Andrews is the other Scottish course included - will compete in the World Club Championship at Nine Bridges.
Also in September, Greg Norman and Adam Scott will meet in a match billed as the old versus new faces of Australia for the televised Shell's Wonderful World of Golf Series.
But the biggest show of the year will come when the LPGA Tour visits town for the Sports Today CJ Nine Bridges Classic from October 25-27.
All the world's best women golfers will be on show, including Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb plus the three great local heroines, Se Ri Pak (pictured), Grace Park and Mi Hyun Kim.
In Korea, women's golf is ranked the number two sport behind soccer, and the course is expecting around 10,000 spectators for the 54-hole event. Last year. Pak, Park and Kim played in a Skins Match at the club and it was a huge success.
Pak, who will defend the Weetabix British Open at Turnberry in August, was certainly impressed. She declared that it was the best course in Korea, and as good as anything she plays on the Tour in America.
The four LPGA Scots, Catriona Matthew, Janice Moodie, Mhairi McKay and Kathryn Marshall, are also geared up for the end of season visit to Jeju. I can promise them a real treat and, with the obvious Scottish flavour, it would be no surprise if one of them walks off with the spoils.
|| 2 - MAY 2002