Man with a mission: Tenniel Chu

By Korea Herald

Mission Hills vice chairman dreams of connecting the world through golf

  • Published : Jan 17, 2014 - 20:32
  • Updated : Jan 17, 2014 - 20:32
Tenniel Chu (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Mission Hills is not just any golf club.

As the largest golf facility in the world, it firmly believes it has a mission to make the world a better place, to connect people as best it can, and give back the love it received.

Helping to make all this possible is Tenniel Chu, who as vice chairman runs the club with his older brother Ken.

The younger Chu was recently in Korea, where he sat down with The Korea Herald to talk about his whirlwind tour, coming projects for Mission Hills, and his personal and business philosophies.

“Our mission is to bring avid golfers and travelers to China and showcase a new China to rest of the world,” Chu said. “And the best way to do this is through the game of golf.”

The new China, according to Chu, is mainly about the burgeoning middle class who long for healthier lifestyles, and to live in better harmony with others.

These initiatives precisely match those of Mission Hills.

For Chu and his company, golf isn’t just about the game. It’s more about the value it brings to the world.

The Haikou Project 

A view of Mission Hills golf resort in Hainan Island, China
The vision of building the ultimate golf resort that everyone can enjoy, including non-golfers, is close to being realized with a new facility in Haikou, the capital of China’s tropical island of Hainan.

“Hainan will be the best kind of one-stop destination for leisure and travel experience you can ever imagine,” Chu said.

The resort ― costing up to $2.5 billion ― houses the world’s second-largest golf complex, which is about 1.5 times the size of Manhattan. There are 22 golf courses, along with hotels and various forms of entertainment.

While the golf course is currently in operation, the entertainment district that includes spas, movie theaters and other facilities will open in May.

Another aspect in the Haikou project is the so-called University City. This project involved inviting top schools around the world including the London School of Economics.

The beauty of it is that up to 5,000 students a year starting in 2016 will be able to study the same curriculum as these schools and get a valid, corresponding diploma.

“Every year, up to 4 million Chinese students apply to study abroad, but only 3,000 can go. The city will therefore be a golden opportunity for these students,” the vice chairman said.

Haikou aims to follow in the footsteps of Mission Hills in Shenzhen, which is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest golf facility in the world.

Mission Hills and Korea

So what does Mission Hills have to do with Korea?

Plenty, according to Chu, who pointed out that Koreans rank among the top seeds in the world of golf.

A large number of Korean players such as Park In-bee and Choi Kyung-ju rank among the world’s top golfers, he said.

“China also needs a national hero in golf. Once we have a national hero, the growth of the game would be even bigger,” Chu predicted.

Hospitality at the golf courses ― Korean caddies are known across the world for being courteous and well-versed in the game ― is another area Mission Hills hopes to benchmark.

But more than that, there is the business side.

“We more than welcome any Korean investor wanting to expand their portfolio. SK and Lotte, for instance, have multiple golf courses, and it’s about how we can create synergy,” he said, mentioning that Mission Hills is planning to open new sites in other areas in China, including near Beijing and Shanghai.

Considering that just 2 percent of China’s 1.3 billion population would make up the largest golfing population in the world, the opportunities abound.

Currently, there are about 500 golf courses in China, with about 4 million golfers.

Chu also hopes to take advantage of the Hallyu Wave.

He has met with celebrity management companies here in the hopes of bringing Hallyu stars to its World Celebrity Pro-Am tournament that brings together famous celebrities and athletes from around the world.

Last year’s roster included NBA star Yao Ming, Brazilian football superstar Ronaldo and Chinese gymnast Li Ning. From Korea, actors like Jung Woo-sung and Ahn Sung-ki also took part.

“We try to attract not only golf enthusiasts, but also non-golfers to make the game more fashionable, hip and trendy,” Chu explained.

Personal philosophy

“Go the extra mile.”

This term seemed to sum up Chu’s personal and business philosophy.

It’s also the formula behind the success Chu has been enjoying at Mission Hills.

“It has to go beyond money,” he said, talking about why Tiger Woods, unarguably the most sought-after golf player in the world, decided to play at Mission Hills last year, against none other than Rory McIlroy.

“These players don’t lack money. It’s more about personal pride or responsibility for development golf,” the vice chairman said.

The Chinese audience and fans also wouldn’t want to believe these players are only after the hefty appearance fees, he noted.

Bringing in these top seeded players is just another way of getting the world to recognize the new China, Chu said, stressing that these games are one of the most effective marketing tools around.

For instance, the exhibition match between Woods and McIlroy had over 44 million views on YouTube. The figure compares with the 2013 World Golf Championship ― HSBC Champions, which had less than 1 million views.

Chu’s final words on the game and the philosophy were, “It’s all about how to position the right stories and the right stars to make an impact.”

By Kim Ji-hyun