Golf House Visit Sign That Chinese
Officials Want Game To GrowNovember 24, 2008
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Anyone who watched the Summer Olympics this past
August in Beijing saw the emergence of an athletic juggernaut.
|Mu Hu, who is a member of the University of
Florida golf team, came to the United States to attend a golf
academy. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)|
While the United States hauled in the most medals - and enjoyed a
record-setting performance from swimmer Michael Phelps - it was the
host nation that turned heads and raised eyebrows for its depth and
diverse athletic prowess. The People's Republic of China registered
the most gold medals (51) and medaled in 25 of 34 sports. Not bad
for a country that didn't come to the Olympic table until 1984.
Ironically, that also was the same year that the first golf course
appeared in the country. During the first 35 years of the Communist
regime, the sport was considered too aristocratic and Western for
the masses. But with the creation of the China Golf Association in
1986, the ancient game was about to take flight. Today, more
than 500 courses have sprouted and an estimated three million
Chinese play, although only 30,000 have a handicap index, according
to China Golf Association officials who paid a visit to Golf House
Nov. 11-13 to get a crash-course in the USGA Handicap and Course
Those figures could get a major spike next fall if the
International Olympic Committee approves golf as an official sport
for the 2016 Games. Seven sports are hoping to become one of the
two the IOC approves. Golf was last played in the Olympics 104
years ago in St. Louis.
However, if golf does get on the Olympic program, CGA
officials believe more dollars would be pumped into the sport from
a country that already heavily finances athletics.
Even without golf in the Games, CGA officials said during their
visit that programs are already in place to grow the game to
Chinese youth. A program sponsored by HSBC, a global bank, has
begun a project to introduce 20,000-30,000 kids ages 5-17 to the
"It would be one of the biggest projects in the whole world," said
Song Yingchun, the CGA's director of marketing through Haili Chen,
a New Jersey-based interpreter. "Because China economics are
booming, lots of children are starting to play golf."
The results of such initiatives likely won't be measured for
another decade. More than 20 years after the first golf course
appeared in the world's most populated country (1.3 billion people,
according to census figures), China has yet to be a major player on
the major professional tours. Zhiang Lian-Wei, 43, was the first
Chinese golfer to win on the European Tour (2003 Caltex Singapore
Masters), edging past two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els on the
72nd hole. The victory caught the attention of Augusta National
officials, who offered Zhiang a special invitation to the Masters,
where he missed the cut in 2004.
His protÃ©gÃ©, Liang Wen-Chong followed suit by becoming the first
Chinese golfer to play in the PGA Championship (2007), where he
missed the cut. He did receive a special invite to the 2008 Masters
(missed cut) and qualified for the '08 British Open at Royal
Birkdale, where he tied for 64th.
Two other Chinese golfers have recently shown the aptitude to
become possible stars: Shanshan Feng and Mu Hu. Feng qualified for
the 2007 U.S. Women's Open as an amateur and earned her LPGA Tour
card for 2008, where she posted four top-five finishes in her
rookie campaign ($464,225). Hu, who came to the U.S. to attend a
golf academy in Florida, has also played in USGA events, including
the 2007 U.S. Amateur, where he missed the match-play cut. Hu
currently is a freshman on the University of Florida men's golf
Instructors from the U.S. and America have begun to filter over to
China. The World Cup signed a 12-year deal to play its event at the
swank Mission Hills Resort, which features 216 holes of golf,
making it the world's largest. The HSBC Champions event on the
European Tour is held outside of Shanghai, and when Tiger Woods
participated, large crowds came to watch the world's No. 1 golfer,
said Song Huaxun, the CGA's senior executive of golf marketing.
In an effort to promote professional golf from within its borders,
the CGA helped create the Omega China Tour, a development circuit
open primarily to those from China, although a small handful of
players from surrounding nations are permitted to compete. Omega
signed on as a title sponsor for seven years.
|It's not far-fetched to think a Chinese
golfer will win the U.S. Open or U.S. Women's Open someday.
"Tournaments in China for Chinese golfers had been getting fewer
and fewer," said Li Chao, who led the tour's money list two of its
first three years, in an ESPN.com piece last year. "Now the
country's golfers have a reason to practice and a chance to win
regular prize money."
So what does all this have to do with the CGA's visit to Golf
Well, it's a sign that the Chinese want to be a serious player in
the game. In 2006, Scott Hovde, the USGA's manager of course rating
and handicap education, traveled to the country for several
seminars. Even though China had been licensed to use the Handicap
and Course Rating System since 1996 (58 international associations
have license agreements for course rating only; 25 have agreements
for the Handicap and Course Rating systems), the country was
lagging in terms of properly rating its courses.
Song Huaxun said plans are being made to re-rate every course in
the country, a process that won't happen overnight. The three men
who came to Golf House - the party also included Jin Hongwen from
the Small Ball Sports Management Centre of China's State Sports
General Administration for which golf falls under along with other
non-Olympic sports such as cricket, squash and bowling - were going
bring back all the information received from the Handicapping
Department and train the individuals who will carry out the rating
"They want to forge a relationship with us," said Mary Kate Kemp,
the USGA's director of handicapping and course rating.
Eric Lahman, assistant manager of handicapping and course
rating, and Cindy Cooper (assistant manager, handicap and course
licensing), educated the CGA officials on all aspects of course
rating and handicapping. The CGA officials also spent part of their
last day at the USGA with Green Section staffers and toured the
Museum and Test Center.
Relations between the two associations began in earnest prior to
the Olympics when the inaugural China vs. Youth Team Golf
Championship was staged July 23-25 in Langfang City. Promoted by
the USGA and CGA, the match brought together eight Americans and
eight Chinese youth golfers for a Ryder Cup-style competition that
was won handily by the USA, 14-2.
The outcome aside, the competition was a major learning experience
for the Chinese. Just observing the Americans' games and
course-management habits was invaluable. The competition will take
place again in 2009 on American soil.
While touring the USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf
History, the CGA officials perked up at a small display from that
"They were all excited," said Kemp about the display, which
featured a shirt and cap from the competition.
The potential for China being a major golf player is
enormous, especially if the game becomes an official Olympic sport.
For proof just look at where China has positioned itself in other
Olympic sports such as gymnastics, track and field and even tennis,
where the country produced its first gold medalist (women's
doubles) at the 2004 Athens Games.
A big obstacle could be expense. The CGA officials said most
courses in the country can be played for around $50, which might
sound cheap for Americans, but for the average Chinese farmer, it
can be a chunk of his monthly income. Most of the venues are
private or resorts, but anyone can play as long as they can afford
Some Chinese see the addition of so many courses in the last
10 years as poor use of land. Critics have even called golf "green
opium" because new courses eliminate fertile agricultural fields.
Still, China ranks second to Japan for total number of courses in
And remember the sport in China is nine years younger than Tiger
Woods. There also wasn't a "pro golfer" designation in the country
until 1994, with most being classified as instructors.
Even the Americans needed time to beat the Scots and English during
the fledgling days of the U.S. Open.
But on sheer numbers alone, China could someday be held in the same
regard as Australia, Japan and Korea in terms of developing
world-class players. It was only 10 years ago that Se Ri Pak burst
onto the scene in women's golf. Now Korea is flooding the LPGA Tour
with talent. Greg Norman helped pave the way for Australians to
come and be successful on the PGA Tour.
"We are very confident that more people will come to [golf]," said
Song Yingchun, "because China has a very good sports system."
DavidShefteris a USGA Digital Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions
or comments at