INCHEON, SK-For project chief John B. Hynes III, the attention focused on the golf course coming to this emerging metropolis is justifiable. There are two passions in Korea, “education and golf,” says Hynes, but the CEO of Gale International and developer of the $25-billion master-planned city tells that the Jack Nicklaus-branded course goes far beyond responding to the sport’s surging popularity.

“It’s important for a lot of reasons,” says Hynes, the transplanted Boston developer whose super-ambitious charge is to carve a 1,500-acre urban enclave out of land reclaimed from the Incheon waterfront. For all the roads and other infrastructure invested by the Korean government, realizing New Songdo’s vision as an Asian economic hotspot will rely heavily on attracting workers from throughout the continent and beyond, states Hynes, who sees recreational options as critical to achieving that goal.

“The private quality-of-life investments need to be made,” he says, “and that’s where the golf course comes in.” The $2.5 billion of development under way since the city’s 2004 groundbreaking includes a 200,000-sf aquarium, and Hynes estimates the 250-acre course will contribute to 30% open space for the community overall. The ability to deliver such features gives New Songdo City a playing chance of steering companies and employees from mature Asian cities where recreational amenities cannot be accommodated easily, he says. Analysis of similarly manufactured “digital cities” have often cited a lack of relaxation opportunities for stunting their progress.

The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea offers other benefits to making New Songdo the “Gateway to Northwest Asia,” as proclaimed in its slogan. “A lot of business is done on the golf course,” Hynes notes, and that should further encourage companies to relocate operations or establish offices in New Songdo. That consideration is enhanced by the city’s location in a special district featuring tax breaks and other corporate favorites such as expedited permitting and access to the abutting Incheon International Airport.

A signing ceremony cementing the Golden Bear’s commitment to the course was held Tuesday, with Hynes; Stanley Gale, chairman and managing partner of Gale International; and Incheon Mayor Sang-soo Ahn in attendance. The course is being built in partnership with Kitson & Partners, a leading golf-development company. Gale’s partner in New Songdo City is Posco E&C.

The PGA-standard 18-hole course will be the centerpiece of a western-style fairway community sporting 151 villas providing unobstructed views of the fairways, greens and tees. A clubhouse will offer dining, a lounge, private meeting rooms and fitness facilities including a swimming pool and spa.

The Nicklaus stamp is rare for any country, says Hynes, with just 25 of the legend’s 300-designed courses bearing his moniker. That not only foments instant name recognition, but Hynes says Nicklaus also becomes particularly involved, even making site visits during construction. The signing also signaled the progress made on New Songdo City, with another $4 billion in work about to commence. “The city is becoming a reality,” Hynes says, who this week is on his 50th trip to the project in the six years since his firm was designated.

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