An inside look at Hainan, 'the Hawaii of China,' where Jack Ma was reportedly spotted golfing at a 5-star resort in recent weeks

Thomas BreazealeMa was reportedly seen golfing at the Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan.

For three months, Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has been keeping out of the public eye as China has cracked down on his businesses.

His sole public appearance was a 50-second video appearance at the end of January, during which he made brief remarks to rural teachers from across China.

But according to a Bloomberg report, the Alibaba and Ant Group founder was spotted playing golf at the Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan, China, in recent weeks. The upscale resort includes a 27-hole golf course, a clubhouse, and a restaurant.

Such clubs aren’t hard to find in Hainan, the island province in southern China that’s known as “the Hawaii of China” thanks to its tropical climate, luxurious beach resorts, and golf courses.

Here’s what it’s like to vacation in Hainan.

Hainan is China’s smallest and southernmost province, made up of more than 200 islands.

Google Maps

The main island is the 12,700-square-mile Hainan Island, which is home to about 9 million people and is a major tourist destination.

More than 83 million tourists visited Hainan in 2019, according to China Daily.

Hainan has been nicknamed the “Hawaii of China” because of its tropical climate, sandy beaches, and upscale hotels and golf clubs.

Getty Images/CheunghyoA view of the city of Sanya in Hainan, China.

In recent years, the province has been trying to attract new residents and foreign investments.

In 2018, Chinese President Xi Jinping designated Hainan as China’s largest free-trade zone and introduced new subsidized housing and fast-track work visas to attract new residents.

The government announced in 2018 that Americans could visit Hainan for up to 30 days without a visa.

Jack Ma, the billionaire Chinese businessman who’s been out of the public eye for three months, has reportedly been spending some time playing golf at one of Hainan’s luxurious resorts.

Wang HE/Getty ImagesJack Ma.

Bloomberg reported on February 10 that Ma had been spotted playing at Hainan’s Sun Valley Golf Resort in “recent weeks.” Sources said he appeared to be a “golfing novice.”

The Alibaba and Ant Group founder has reportedly been “lying low” in recent months as Chinese regulators cracked down on his businesses. Speculation on his whereabouts started when Ma failed to appear on the finale of the African talent show he created in November. In October, Ma had publicly criticised China’s banking rules.

He wasn’t seen at all for more than two months until January 20, when he made some brief remarks to rural teachers in a 50-second videoconference call.

Representatives for Ma’s companies did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.

The Sun Valley Golf Resort where Ma was reportedly seen includes a clubhouse, a restaurant and club bar, and a sauna.

Thomas BreazealeThe Sun Valley Golf Resort in Hainan.

The 27-hole course was designed by JMP Golf Design Group, a company that has designed high-end courses all over the world in countries including the US, France, Japan, Malaysia, and Mexico.

The club overlooks Yalong Bay near Sanya, a city on Hainan’s southern coast.

Sanya, Hainan’s most popular tourist destination, boasts more than 25 miles of coastline, a lively city centre, and plenty of luxury hotels including a St. Regis, a Ritz-Carlton, a Rosewood, and an Edition hotel.

Getty Images/Юлия Моисеенко

Sanya is “China’s premier beach community,” according to Lonely Planet.

One of Sanya’s most luxurious hotels is the Mandarin Oriental, where guests can stay in a variety of suites, villas, and pavilions.

Lucas Schifres/Getty Images

The hotel is situated on a protected coral bay and has three swimming pools, a swim-up cocktail bar, and a spa.

A night’s stay in March starts at about $US360.

Sanya’s beaches can be particularly crowded between November and February.

STR/AFP via Getty Images

During this time period, many northern Chinese head down for a tropical vacation in the island province.

Hainan also attracts so many tourists from Russia that many of the signs and restaurant menus are written in Cyrillic in addition to Chinese and English, according to the South China Morning Post.

Sanya’s Phoenix Island, an artificial archipelago with multiple hotels, restaurants, luxury apartment buildings, a conference centre, and a marina, has drawn comparisons to Dubai.

Getty Images/zhou shuPhoenix Island in Sanya.

Phoenix Island is connected to the city by a long bridge that’s only open to guests.

It’s not uncommon to see luxury yachts on the water in Sanya.

Luo Yunfei/China News Service via Getty Images

In fact, Sanya’s yachting industry grew in 2020 during the pandemic, with a 28% uptick in new yacht registrations, according to the Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper.

Sanya’s Houhai Beach is popular with snorkelers and surfers.

Getty Images/Artyom IvanovSurfers on Houhai Beach in Sanya in December 2019.

The city of Sanya may be Hainan’s tourism mecca, but visitors are also drawn to its laid-back capital city, Haikou, its rural fishing villages, and its less developed West Coast with its tropical rainforests.

The Sun Valley Golf Resort where Ma was spotted is far from the only place to golf on Hainan. The island is home to multiple golf courses, and the temperate climate means it’s possible to play year-round.

Zhe Ji/Getty ImagesA Hainan golf course.

The sport of golf is growing in China, even though Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, once dismissed it as a “sport for millionaires.”

Hainan is one of the few global destinations that’s seen a tourist revival during the pandemic — and the CEOs of luxury brands have taken notice, according to a recent Bloomberg report.

Luo Yunfei/China News Service via Getty ImagesCustomers shop in Sanya in October 2020. O

After a 90% drop-off in tourism in the spring, Hainan saw a resurgence in the last half of 2020 that was driven mainly by domestic travellers, per Reuters. In October, 9.6 million people visited the island – more than the year before. The island has been virtually virus-free for eight months.

Luxury sales in Hainan have been “on fire” recently, John Idol, CEO of fashion holding company Capri Holdings, which owns Michael Kors and Versace, said recently on a conference call with analysts.

Patrice Louvet, the CEO of Ralph Lauren, told Bloomberg: “Hainan is a strategic priority for us. Every business is looking at it.”

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