Acclaimed by a select few as the best 18 holes in Sussex, Birch Grove has closed for good.

There are no plans by the owner, billionaire Larry Yung, to reopen.

Instead, the matchless private domain at Chelwood Gate will become derelict and return to nature. Goodbye to £10 million and a terrible waste, but Yung is finished with golf after playing at his exclusive retreat less than 20 times in nine years.

The three greenkeepers have been made redundant. As Birch Grove was entirely the playground for the 65-year-old Shanghai-based tycoon there is no club or members to mourn its passing.

As for regrets, Donald Steel, the Chichester architect of world renown must have quite a few for this was a magnum opus to be enjoyed only by Yung two or three times a year and by specially invited guests.

And the reason for the closure? One of the job-searching greenstaff, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "We have been told that the only explanation is that Mr Yung cannot play any more."

The last time his helicopter landed on the 1,000 acre estate between Lewes and East Grinstead was in July. Later in the year he underwent a major operation and, out of the blue, staff received three months notice.

Charlie Messenger, one of the greenkeepers, has found another job at Paxhill Park while another, John Luckhurst now works maintaining fork lift trucks.

The course they and others tended is reckoned to have cost £10 million and started to take shape in April, 1994.

It opened the following year, stretching to 6,800 yards (par 72) covering tree-lined fairways, lakes and immaculate greens.

The local council granted planning permission on the understanding that only a limited number of golf days be played. No more than 40 players at one time could appear with monies going to charity.

Guests accompanied Yung on his flying visits.

Jason Partridge, the Piltdown pro, recalled: "As a golf course it is absolute perfection. No expense spared, the condition left you speechless. That was helped by the fact that it was not played very often. You never saw a divot or anything out of place. If I owned my own course and it was as good as this, I would play it every day."

When Yung and his guests played they were followed round by a refreshments cart bearing everything from the finest smoked salmon to a full drinks bar. There was no clubhouse. Instead the changing facility was a luxuriously furnished and appointed farmhouse. The names of the holes were personalised. One hole, for instance, is called Larry's Leaps and another, out of respect for the former owner, Wind of Change.

In a secret deal, Yung bought the 14-bedroom house, once the home of former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, for £5.5 million.

The actual sale of the estate went through in 1989 to Settling, a Hong Kong company and was sold by Macmillan's son Alexander.

So Yung's UK holiday home was an en-suite golf course and mansion that was Harold Macmillan's home for 60 years until his death in 1986. The only concession to the public is two footpaths crossing the estate.

The purchaser had so many strings to his bow it is difficult to know where to begin. He is founder and chairman of Citic Pacific, China's principal Hong Kong investment vehicle. Yung controls not only Citic but his fortune comes from infrastructure to property, airlines and steel as well. As the eldest son of China's former vice-president, Rong Yiren, he was an engineering student.

He is on record as saying: "I never did business in China. I don't mind people calling me a red chip or a blue chip. They can call me any colour. Only my earnings per share matter."

On his home ground he is president of Hong Kong Golf Club and a steward of Hong Kong Jockey Club. At Birch Grove he liked to shoot pheasant and gained a reputation of being a supporter of the Countryside Alliance.

He enjoyed a good name among the Chelwood Gate locals. To them he was a new-style lord of the manor and created jobs.

A local cricket club received £5,000 to help with a pavilion. As one of the richest men in the world he was able to build his own golf course without noticing a slimming down of his wallet.

Now he has left a triumph of the course-building art to grow over. There is no future in looking for a purchaser because of the original terms laid down by the council. Who could afford the price anyway?

Soon, all that remains of Birch Grove before it returns to meadow land will be the visitors book. Two entries summed it all up: "Better than Wentworth" said one, while another reads: "Richer for the experience, poorer for balls."