Meet Brian O'Donovan, the Cork man who's teaching the richest people in China how to play golf 8 years ago

Meet Brian O'Donovan, the Cork man who's teaching the richest people in China how to play golf

"I think I've met two or three Irish people in 16 months."

Cork man Brian O'Donovan is on a road less travelled at the moment. He's working as a golf instructor and management trainee at one of the most luxurious golf resorts on the planet - Mission Hills Resort in China.


"I got off the plane in Hong Kong and thought 'what the f**k am I doing?' but that's almost exactly 16 months ago now. It's amazing how the time has flown.

Brian is an Irish PGA professional from Bandon who decided in late 2013 that he wanted a new experience so he packed his bags and headed for the outskirts of the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

"The question people ask me the most is how I've ended up here. I actually just wanted to do something different. I'd heard of a few western guys coming over here so I looked into it.

"I did some interviews on Skype, they offered me the opportunity and I took it. Simple as that."


Mission Hills 2

Mission Hills Resort

Despite there being a track record of westerners going to China to do the job, but Brian said the change of scenery took some getting used of.

"The language was a huge challenge. When I first arrived I'd no idea what was being said," he says. "If there were two Chinese people walking down the street in Dublin or Cork and you overhear them, it sounds like noise. That's what it was like for a while.


"I'm getting some lessons from a girl in the office, but the problem is that one word has four different meanings depending on the tone you use.

It was so confusing but I'm getting there now, though, I'm nowhere near, where I want to be, but I can hold a conversation to a decent level."


One of the Mission Hills promises is that they "create memorable experiences for all and ensure repeated visits through personalised services and premier integrated offerings."


In other words, it's one of the swankiest joints on the planet.

"Everything about it is built for luxury. Everything they do is designed to make them the best. The money is crazy. A membership package here can cost you €320,000 and people are willing to pay it," Brian says.

Brian O'Donovan Missions Hills Picture

Brian on the resort academy's promotional poster

"China is funny because there isn't a middle class. There are extremely rich people, rich people and poor people. There's nothing in between.


"Playing golf here gives us a social status so they're all trying to out-do each other, be it with the equipment or the cars. The cars are nuts, a guy rocked up with a McLaren F1 one day and all I could do is laugh. It's a different world."

Mission Hills has hosted loads of huge tournaments including the World Cup of Golf for three years straight. The latest was the World Celebrity Pro-Am which was played there last October.

"Nicole Kidman, Paul McGinley, Jessica Alba, Darren Clarke, Morgan Freeman, Ian Poulter, Clarence Seedorf, Chris Evans, Gary Player and lots more were knocking around the place," he says.

Brian O'Donovan Paul McGinley

Brian with Ryder Cup winning captain Paul McGinley

"Myself and a few of the lads from the club were having breakfast one of the mornings and Gary Player asked to join us. We said yes obviously. That was pretty surreal."

The place has also a team of 3,000 female caddies who are aged between 18 and 25-years-old. Surreal.


Shenzhen is one of the biggest cities in China but Brian hasn't seen much of an Irish community in his time there.

"I think I've met two or three Irish people in 16 months but I've met a good few Australians, English and Americans. The social life is pretty good though.

"Lat Sunday night for example, I finished work at 6pm, then myself and a few lads got a driver from the club to take us into the city. We had dinner and drinks in a Japanese sushi place and then headed out for the night.

"There isn't a huge drinking culture here but it's still hopping in the bars, and the nightclubs stay open until 6am or 7am so there is a party scene if you want that," he says.

"The other night was similar to a busy night in Cork. It's cheap enough too, you'll get a bottle of beer for two or three euro but you buy spirits by the bottle so that can get expensive."


Brian got into golf with the dream of playing the game professionally. He says teaching has been his priority since his moved to China, but his personal ambitions are still very much alive.

Brian O'Donovan Golfing

Brian working on his game with some caddies in the background

"I have been working so much over that last while that I haven't been able to play as much as I'd like to.

"I played a PGA Tour event in China last October and managed to get through the qualifier. I played the four days and did okay but I was never going to be in contention because I hadn't practised enough. It was a great experience though.

"I've a big one coming up in a few weeks because I'll be playing in the qualifier for the Volvo China Open which is in Shanghai this year.

"That's a European Tour event so qualifying for that would be a dream, so fingers crossed."


China has a population of around 1.4 billion people and in many parts of the country there are specific customs and etiquette which Brian has experienced.

"I was invited out to dinner one night and learned that the seating layout of the dinner is really important. The guy who is hosting has to sit facing the door, the second most important guy sits to his right, the third most important to his left and so on.

"If you're the guy with your back directly to the door, you're the least important person in the room.

Another one is clinking glasses at dinner, if they guy is deemed more superior you need to touch his glass well below the rim. It's weird but it's an important little thing.

"They've been very good with me, they know I'm from a different culture but I try and embrace it so they know I respect theirs. Respect is huge around here and that's something I always keep in mind."

Brian O'Donovan Poulter

Brian and Ian Poulter during the celebrity pro-am


Brian has been away from home for 16 months and wasn't with his family and friends this Christmas.

Despite that, he says he's happy and settled.

"Yeah, it's okay. Obviously there are times when you'd love to just jump on a flight because you miss the craic and stuff. But there's a good bunch of guys here and we look out for each other.

"We do have these things called 'China Days'. They're days when everything that could go wrong does and then China seems like the worst place on Earth.

"It's just so different though and sometimes the little things here can get so annoying but overall it's actually fine.

"I get such cravings for a bag of taytos though, I miss them the most. My parents sent a few bags in a care package at Christmas. I devoured them.

Even though his favourite cheese and onion flavoured crisps aren't in his local shop in Shenzhen, Brian says he's in no rush to return to Ireland.

"I can't see myself leaving here for a while yet. I have made no plans to come home so my options are open."