Garon arrived in Shanghai via Hainan, the sub-tropical island where, as general manager, he opened and curated the rise of Shanqin Bay Golf Club. This 2009 Coore/Crenshaw design remains the only Chinese course to crack GOLF Magazine’s prestigious World Top 100 list (the 2017 ballot ranked Shanqin Bay #39).
Garon’s permanent hire signals similar ambitions for Lanhai’s Yangtze Dunes course, which reopened to member play in June 2018, following a sweeping renovation from the Melbourne-based course architects at Ogilvy, Clayton, Cocking & Mead (OCCM). Working with Chinese construction firm Forward Golf, OCCM Partner Ashley Mead produced what many are hailing as the first world-class links track on the Asian mainland.
“Fittingly, Yangtze Dunes reopened as a walking-only course, another rarity here, and one that necessitated the removal of some 8 km of concrete cart paths,” Garon explains. “I’m thankful to have missed that process, but grateful for the foresight. This course should be walked in order to be fully appreciated.”
The American-born Garon, a Louisiana native, arrived in Shanghai following a determinedly upscale, far-flung career in club and resort operations. He served as vice president of club operations at KSL Recreation Properties, whose holdings at the time included the Doral Resort & Spa in Miami, Florida; La Quinta Resort & Spa and PGA West in the California desert, near Palm Springs; and the famed La Costa Resort & Spa north of San Diego, in Carlsbad. Thereafter he served as vice president of the Bonita Bay Group, in Naples, Florida, and president of New Leaf Management, where he oversaw the operation of 14 different golf properties, 7 community associations, 3 beach clubs and several more marinas.
He arrived at Shanqin Bay GC in 2008, when the course was still taking shape. Four years later, it was universally held to be the top-ranked track on the Asian mainland, #39 in the world according to GOLF; #37 according to Golf Digest’s most recent world top 100. The club ranks #14 on another heady list: Platinum Clubs of the World.
“When it comes to allure, I see a great many similarities between Shanqin Bay and Lanhai International, though as clubs and courses they are completely unique unto themselves,” Garon says. “People beat a path to Shanqin Bay because they couldn’t quite believe that any course in China could be that good. It’s the same dynamic here, with the Yangtze Dunes course - the links context only piques the curiosity further.
“Some may have arrived with a measure of skepticism, but I can assure you: No one left here with any. This is clearly the best course to debut in Asia since Shanqin Bay. OCCM have produced at Yangtze Dunes something marvellous and authentic - something of the highest international standard and completely unique to the region. The scary thing is, this course is not even a year old. Strategically, it’s already superb. Aesthetically, with the full maturation of these outlying areas still in process, its best days are yet to come.”
Lanhai International CC was founded in 2009. It quickly took its place among the top clubs in Asia on the strength of its 36 holes (including the Woodlands Course, a Nicklaus Design), its elegant Tuscan-style clubhouse, its location on Chongming (a sand-based island in the middle of the Yangtze River delta) and a distinguished membership drawn from nearby Shanghai.
In late 2016, club fortunes were forever altered when new ownership, The Ping An Group, commissioned OCCM to create, on Lanhai’s former Links Course, a golfing experience that would compete with the world’s best.
Founded in 1988, as an insurance specialist (it was China’s first joint stock insurance company), Ping An stands today as a fully integrated, compact, multi-functional financial services group whose core activities centre on insurance, banking, and investment. At the close of September 2017, the Group - ranked 16th in the Forbes Global 2000 list - boasted more than 1.7 million employees (serving 153 million individual customers) and some RMB6 trillion in total assets, with RMB425.78 billion in equity attributable to shareholders of the parent company.
Operations at Lanhai International are a shared enterprise, a collaboration between Forward Golf and Landscapes Management Co., a division of Lincoln, Nebraska-based Landscapes Unlimited. This was the management structure at Shanqin Bay, as well.
“The difference here in Shanghai is a little something they call winter,” Garon says. “It’s been a bit of an adjustment, for me, after being born and raised on the bayou, working in Southern California, Florida, then Hainan Island. I’m still waiting for my blood to thicken up.
“On the other hand, the climate here is perfectly suited to the grass types that best support proper links golf. The same can be said for our home here on Chongming, the second largest alluvial island on Earth. ‘Alluvial’ is the technical way to describe an island whose sandy soil was formed by river currents. This spot was crying out for a for links course and thanks to OCCM, we have a special one. It’s my great privilege to curate the experience here.”