06/13/04 — Miniature Golf in China

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Miniature Golf in China

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on June 13, 2004 2:08 AM

A new miniature golf course has been open since October in China and its popularity is growing.

Jerry Howell, president of Howell Support Services in Goldsboro, left today on his 14th trip to Yangzhou, China, which is the site of the 54-hole course called "Gentlemen's Golf."

He invested around $500,000 to construct the course and is pleased with the response it is getting from locals and tourists.

"Everybody seems to like it and comes back," he said.

The grand opening received much television and newspaper coverage, especially because it is the only course on mainland China.

There was minimal play at first because of the cold weather, but it has picked up now that it is warmer. Howell sold some discount tickets and is working on getting companies to hold day-long tournaments for its employees. He said people are curious when they first see the course, although they have miniature golf on TV.

The idea for the project began about 12 years ago when Howell's mother, Irene, was a delegate to the President's Commission on Foreign Trade. They visited mainland China to share information about how health care is provided for the mentally disabled in the United States.

During the trip, their interpreter, Dr. Charles Li, was very interested in what they were doing and expressed an interest in coming to work for Mrs. Howell, who started the licensed home care agency that operates community-based residential homes.

Dr. Li acquired a visa and has worked in the United States ever since. Several years ago, he and his mother-in-law went to Myrtle Beach. They played miniature golf and she was hooked on it.

Howell noticed on his trips to Yangzhou that there was a need for more recreational activities. In 2000 he started the ball rolling and gathered support for the golf course. They purchased land from farmers and construction took about a year. Most of the labor was done manually by about 100 construction workers, who are farmers during the summer.

They dug trenches, laid the stone and brick and built the structures for course obstacles like sand traps and ponds. Delmar Edwards with Edwards Land Excavation in Goldsboro was there for a year overseeing the project.

The only problems during construction were a few conceptual issues with how to design the holes based on the lay of the land and one bad storm.

The groundreaking for the course was in May 2002. A $4 million, five-story building complex is almost completed beside the course and will contain a restaurant, which will be owned by Howell's partner, Mr. Wei. A pro shop is on the first floor where people get their golf ticket, club and ball. The building may also contain an indoor pool.

Howell's goal is to have several hundred people play per day. There are lights so people can play until 10 p.m. It costs $5 to play 18 holes. The course has a holding pond, castle, Chinese gardens, fountains and bridges.

He is considering building another one in Beijing and in Nanjing.

"I really want everybody to experience the culture."

He has taken many pictures of the course and plans to develop a slide show to present to other possible investors.