A huge driver

Inclusion as an Olympic sport should spur Chinese golf revolution

A huge driver

Looking chipper: IOC announcement will boost golf in China

If annoying the Scots is your thing (and why not), tell them that it was the Chinese who really invented golf.

Forget the ancient greens of St Andrews, the Chinese maintain that golf has its origins in a game called chuiwan, which was played in the Song Dynasty (which began in 960). A Chinese official is on record as having asked his daughter to dig holes that he could aim at.

Chuiwan was played with 10 clubs, some of which were inlaid with jade and gold, which tends to suggest the game was for the wealthy.

Not much has changed since then and golf remains a sport for the rich in China today. With club memberships costing Rmb100,000 (and up) and green fees of over Rmb1,000 for 18 holes, it remains out of the reach of the vast majority.

Indeed, golf’s perceived elitism has made it contentious. As reported in WiC14, the exact number of golf courses in China is something of a mystery – estimates swing between 176 and 376. Another of those state secrets, perhaps.

Little wonder, really. President Hu Jintao wants to create a ‘harmonious society’ and golf didn’t exactly fit with that philosophy. It rather emphasises the gap between rich and poor instead.

That’s why new course construction was severely restricted not long after Hu became paramount leader – although environmental arguments were also used as justification (did it make sense for parched cities like Beijing to add another water-hungry par 72?).

In the absence of such regulatory restraints China would have built between 5,000 and 10,000 courses by now, according to a golf club manager reported on the Lux007 website.

But last week the outlook for golf in the country brightened. That’s because the International Olympic Committee voted to include it as a sport in the 2016 games. With China still fixated on all things related to the Olympics – and especially with winning medals – this has caused a major stir. There is talk of a local golfer taking gold in Rio – Liang Wenchong perhaps in the men’s event and Feng Shanshan in the ladies’. Others think a medal in 2020 is more realistic.

“Chinese people have made history time and time again,” says Jiang Xiaoyu, the executive vice-president of the Organising Committee for China’s 2008 Olympics. “Chinese golf will definitely make history one day.”

Jiang adds that golf will now be included in the national training system because it has become an Olympic sport.

This is significant: the country’s exhaustive training regime propelled it to the top of the gold medal table at last year’s Olympiad. And if the government becomes more positive about golf, cash-rich Chinese companies will be encouraged to fund the game’s domestic development through sponsorship.

So as China gets serious about golf expect more coaches, more courses and more players.

The news was exciting enough for Zhang Xiaoning, the vice-president of the China Golf Association, to break cover on the mysterious number of domestic courses. Predicting a glorious future, he looked back at how far China had already come: “Twenty-five years ago there was only one golf course in China. Today there are more than 500.”

Efforts are also being made to reconcile the sport with Hu’s vision of a harmonious society. Wang Hui – whose Beijing Sihe Tongli International Sports Development organises golf events – says golf is socially beneficial. Many parents now want their children to learn the “honesty, etiquette and self-cultivation” that the game teaches.

Golf’s cheerleaders also hope that government support will encourage the construction of more ‘public’ courses to make the game affordable at the grassroots level. There have already been a couple of experiments in this field. Shenzhen’s Longgang Public Golf Course has a Rmb150 green fee and around 230 players use this non-members course every day. The Metropolis Times reports that Yunnan opened its first public course in June – the Kunming Ranch Golf Club – with a Rmb300 weekday green fee.

“In view of golf’s selection as an Olympic sport, the government should introduce the relevant supporting policies,” says Liu Chuancai, general manager of the Spring City Golf Course, also in Yunnan.

“Playing golf will soon become cheaper. This affordability to the local population will result in more talent being unearthed and this will only be good for China,” agrees Zhang Lianwei, the first Chinese golfer to win a European Tour event.

All in all, the Olympic Committee’s decision could have far-reaching consequences. When China finally tees off, it may shake the golfing world.

Keeping Track: As reported in WiC35, the Chinese are taking golf far more seriously now it’s an Olympic sport, and this week a new milestone for the nation. At the PGA Championship, Liang Wen chong shot 64 to break the course record at Whistling Stra its in Wisconsin. Thanks to exceptiona l putting he finished only three strokes off the leader, and tied for eighth place – his best result in a golf major. “It will mak e people realise there actually are professional golfers in China,” Liang told Associated Press.(20 August 2010)

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.