The Chinese government has decided to start taking golf incredibly, deathly, serious, because it has that kind of time to spare. Also, because it meshes perfectly with China’s hunger for status symbols; think of it as the Starbucks of sports.
This month alone Shanghai is hosting two major events, the BMW Masters and the WGC-HSBC Champions, the latter an official PGA Tour event with all the world’s top players including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson competing.
“Golf is a game that the Chinese believe we can excel at, because it’s more an IQ game than a muscular game,” said Ken Chu, chief executive of the Mission Hills Group. “I mean, how often do you get a Yao Ming becoming a national hero? But golf, no matter what height you are or how much you weigh, is still mostly mental.”
However golf is never on the mind of the average Chinese man as its perceived as a rich man’s game and ultimate status symbols for the rich.
David Townend, director of Troon Golf’s Asian and Australian operations believes there are roughly 600 courses in China and 700,000 golfers although many of them—i.e. the practice-range sort of folk—have never even set foot on a full course.
The government’s concerns with the loss of agricultural land, 1.4 billion mouths to feed, degradation of forests, and water scarcity have hampered the growth of development of golf courses.
Even if golf never becomes a grass-roots game in China, Townend believes China may be able to match the United States’ investments into the sport, in Olympic golf and junior levels, as a feeder system for other international competitions, including the pro tours.
However The China Golf Association hired Greg Norman to advise its Olympic golf teams and has built a state-of-the-art training center near Guangzhou.
Guan Tianlang, the 14 year old Chinese golf prodigy, had won more than 80 elite amateur tournaments in China before winning last year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur. Before heading to the Masters, he practiced for months on a green complex built to the Augusta National specifications and reserved exclusively for him and a few others.
[Image via: Wikipedia]