Written by Caitlyn Howe of the Royal Flush Crew
This year marked the fifth year of WPT National China, and under the passionate direction of Ourgame, the MGM Grand Sanya proved a perfect setting.
My love for Sanya began even before I arrived at the beautiful resort. From the first warm breezes in the open-air airport terminal, through the scenic ride to our destination, it was love at first sight. Sanya’s rolling landscape of lush, tropical foliage featured clusters of dense, twiggy palms and scattered rice paddies amidst a blanket of waxy leaves over low-lying mountains.
As I arrived at the resort, the jaw-dropping latticework of the towering lobby drew my gaze up and then out further, past the sprawling gardens to a vast arrangement of crystal blue pools that seemed to flow endlessly into the horizon’s South China Sea.
I didn’t have long to soak everything in before joining the rest of the team for the annual welcome party. A swarm of beauties adorned arriving guests in light-up accessories as a gesture of welcome to the property’s upscale pool venue, Wet Republic. Bottomless glasses of bubbly satiated partygoers during the commencement from Frank Ng, CEO of Ourgame, and Adam Pliska, CEO of World Poker Tour, not long before they were thrown into the pool in what is becoming an annual tradition at the event.
Pandemonium ensued as giant water guns and a mass of floaties inspired the crowd to join them, and nearly every attendee wound up in the water, either by will or by force!
Of all events I have had the pleasure of attending since I joined the WPT family, few have had the visual edge of Season XV’s WPT National China in Sanya. Event decor was tastefully bold, sponsors such as Hublot and Red Bull contributed to the glamour, and billowing flags lining the path to registration evoked the thrill of having arrived at a tournament of great prestige.
The poker room was abuzz with anticipation on WPT National China’s opening day, and where words couldn’t assist in my interactions with players, we found other ways to connect. Colorful spotlights played up the feature table – empty then, but the ultimate goal to achieve every poker player’s dream – and everyone filed in early to take their seats. Scanning the room, it was impossible to overlook a distinct cultural reverence for the game at hand.
We enjoyed our first group outing later that day with a sunset cruise around Sanya Bay. Nearing the harbor, a surprisingly dynamic city center came into view. Numerous high-rise properties modernized the scene in bursts of luxury, speaking to the global appeal of Hainan Island, referred to by some as the “Hawaii of China.”
Enjoying a panoramic view of the bayfront by boat was just the beginning. On breaks from the tournament floor, we explored the resort’s many culinary offerings, such as traditional Cantonese dim sum at Silk. We also made heavy use of the fitness center under the cracking whip of Andrea and Brenden Johnson, WPT Royal Flush Crew members and fitness specialists.
Gatherings continued at the lobby bar with an elegant cocktail party hosted by Hublot, proud sponsor of the WPT Player of the Year. Awards were presented and glasses raised, then WPT Co-Commentator Vince Van Patten had guests lined up for impromptu party games to close out the soiree with a signature World “Party” Tour touch.
Of all my favorite moments, the one that stands out most was one that brought my focus inward. A jewel of the property, Sho: The Spa, is an experience not to be missed. After days of travel and long hours on my feet, the hot stone massage I selected was the perfect therapy, and the innovative bliss of Sho’s relaxation feature, the vitality pool, is what sets the spa apart from all others.
For a reasonable fee, guests can opt for a self-guided getaway from the outside world, including steam room, salt sauna, and a luminescent pool which awaits in tranquil stillness, but surprises with nearly 30 stations of interactive water features. Waterfall variations cascade from above and jets massage beneath the surface, each triggered by the simple touch of a hand, and all to provide an out-of-this-world experience.
In spite of light rain showers on our final day, Andrea, Brenden, and I agreed that we could not depart without getting our toes wet in Yalong Bay, so we joined Adam, Vince, and WPT Anchor Lynn Gilmartin for an ocean swim and beach frisbee game.
WPT National China came to a close with a stunning sunset for me and the rest of the Royal Flush Crew, but the resort offered respite from the early-departure blues with some Westerner-friendly Halloween fun in the main lobby, including face painting, zombies, and delightfully disturbing “blood bag” cocktails. All so visitors needn’t miss out on the holiday festivities.
I departed Sanya enriched by my days there. I had thrown caution to the wind and, mascara notwithstanding, dove into a splash fight for the first time since grade school. I swam in the South China Sea under gently rumbling storm clouds and, most importantly, built a deepening respect for the wonderful Chinese culture and the people of Sanya.
To attempt to distill the specialness of this event into a few paragraphs hardly does it justice. WPT National China offers an experience of a lifetime that you need to see for yourself!