Blessed with year-round good weather, impressive scenery and diverse culture, the capital of Yunnan is attracting more international visitors to tee off on its meandering greens.
Dubbed Spring City, Kunming has all the right elements to be the golf capital of China – pleasant weather year-round, stunning vistas, interesting cuisine, unique culture and easy access to the courses.
Now the city’s appeal is further elevated with more international hotels and improved access, as Kunming became the 10th city in China to allow foreign visitors three-day visa-free stays since last year, said Nick Zhao, director, sales and marketing (operation), Spring City Golf & Lake Resort.
“Kunming has one of the largest collections of golf courses in Asia and there are several courses located within two hours’ drive of the city. It is the golf capital of China,” he said. “There is convenient access by land and air, and is the gateway between China and South-east Asia, plus there is pleasant weather all year round.”
Ho Hsiao Ho, founder of Golf Holiday, a wholesaler and retailer, said demand for golf holidays in Kunming has been rising 15 to 20 per cent annually since he started the golf holiday business 35 years ago, barring the 2008 global financial crisis and 2012 economic downturn.
Ho said: “Initially, all the golfers were from Taiwan. Today they come from all over the world. In Asia, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia are the main source markets.”
According to Ho, there are more than 10 golf courses within a 30-minute drive from Kunming; most golfers will stay two nights in Spring City Golf & Lake Resort and another two nights in Kunming.
“It may surprise you but Yunnan and Kunming are considered the most expensive in Asia for golf. It costs around RMB10,000 (US$1,574) for a five-day trip with four rounds of golf compared to RMB6,000 in Japan,” Ho said.
Lower prices are on the horizon for golfing in Kunming. Ho added: “Golf holiday prices are starting to fall this year and I believe they will continue to fall because of economic uncertainty. It is now 20 to 25 per cent cheaper.”
To attract more golf visitors, Ho said Kunming could do with more air seats, more competitive airfares with the entry of LCCs, plus stronger destination promotion.
Spring City Golf & Lake Resort’s Zhao agreed: “The promotion of Kunming as a tourist destination to a wide variety of travellers can be further strengthened using rich visuals and testimonials of people who have visited the place.”
Spring City Golf & Lake Resort, which has put Kunming and China on the world map as a coveted golfing destination, will also be doing more to attract visitors.
Zhao added: “We are planning to improve entertainment and recreation facilities in the resort, establish partnerships with local tour agencies, as well as provide sightseeing vehicle hiring services for non-golfers.”
Lu Hao Shuo, deputy general manager, inbound travel division, Kunming CITS, pointed out that golf trips are popular not only in Kunming, but all over Yunnan.
“There are good golf courses in tourist destinations such as Dali, Lijiang and Tengchong,” said Lu, citing examples such as Stoneforest International Country Club in Kunming and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Golf Club in Lijiang.
Lu added that Kunming CITS customises tour programmes for mixed groups of golfers and non-golfers.
“While the golfers are playing, we can arrange other activities for the non-golfers such as cycling, rock climbing, photography, botany, zoology or minority culture tours, depending on their interest.
“In general, the number of golf visitors is expanding, especially among the South Koreans and Japanese.”
However, Lu said that there were challenges like increased competition due to the slowdown of both the domestic and global economies. Moreover, the renminbi had been strong until its devaluation in August while costs have been escalating in China in recent years.