International Expansion Takes Rick Jacobson to China

In the early 1990s, some of America's largest and most influential corporations paved the way to China, seeking access to the country's highly efficient workforce and a seemingly unlimited market potential.

Today, Chicago-area golf course architect Rick Jacobson walks in the footsteps of those early pioneers; only Jacobson is more likely to be pacing off yardages at one of his new Chinese golf courses than running to a meeting with government officials in an office building in Beijing.

Jacobson is among a new wave of American golf course architects who, as domestic demand for new golf courses has all but dried up in recent years, have expanded their businesses in an attempt to attract more international projects.

"It became apparent a couple of years ago that, for a variety of reasons, demand for new golf courses in the United States was in serious decline," Jacobson said recently. "For awhile, just about all of the new courses in the U.S. were being built in conjunction with real estate developments, but now even that market has stalled.

"Our decision to return to the international market and offer our services on a worldwide basis has been a good one," Jacobson said. "Golf isn't really 'dying,' as some in the U.S. like to say; it has just 'relocated.' It's going strong in places like China, India, parts of the Middle East and Europe."

Currently, Jacobson has two courses under construction in Guangdong province in southeastern China and another on the drawing board:

* The 36-hole Lion's Lake Resort course in a golf community setting located near the city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) is expected to complete phase one later this year.

* Chaozhou is an 18-hole resort course located about an hour from Guangzhou by air. Guangdong province is the home of Mission Hills, the world's largest golf resort, a half-hour by air from Hong Kong.

"China's increasing affluence, its growing middle class, and the availability of land indicate that China has all the elements for sustainable future growth in the game of golf," Jacobson said. "It's exciting to be a part of this historic period in the evolution of the game."

Jacobson is known for such heralded American 18-hole designs as Augustine GC in Stafford, Va., Bull Run CC in Haymarket, Va., Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, Del., and The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis. Bayside Resort and Golf Club in Fenwick Island, Del. was named among the top new courses for 2006 by Golf Digest and Golfweek magazines. The course was collaboration between Jacobson and Jack Nicklaus, his former employer and mentor.

Jacobson has also renovated several classic courses, including Pete Dye's Des Moines CC, site of the 1999 U.S. Senior Open; Oak Park CC and Bob O'Link GC, both Chicago area Donald Ross courses; North Shore CC in Glenview, Ill., an H.S. Colt/C.H. Alison course,; Glen Oak CC in Glen Ellyn, Ill., a Tom Bendelow course, and Sunset Ridge CC in Northfield, Ill.