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Yunnan charting China's course

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-16 09:19
Finland's Kim Koivu poses with the trophy after winning the Yunnan Open in Kunming on Sunday. Koivu notched a 16-under 268 for the victory. CHENG RUI/FOR CHINA DAILY

Tournaments help spotlight 'paradise' locale

The Belt & Road Colorful Yunnan Open, the China Tour's third stop of the year, wrapped up on Sunday at Yunnan Lakeview Yulongwan Golf Club in Kunming, Yunnan province, as the latest example of the nation's growing golf ambition.

With total prize money of $350,000, the fifth edition of the Yunnan Open was contested by 126 golfers from 28 countries and regions and provided winner Kim Koivu of Finland with a ticket to the European Challenge Tour.

For local golfers, the tournament is not only an opportunity to challenge international competition, but also a symbol of Yunnan's efforts to grow the game.

One of the beneficiaries is 14-year-old Zhang Zhongyu, who played in this year's Open for the first time on a wild card and was the youngest player in the field.

"I started golf training when I was 5 years old," said Zhang, a Yunnan native. "Now I'm in Grade 8 at school, so I normally have classes in the morning and play golf in the afternoon.

"I know many young players of my age who have started to train and to play in teenage-level tournaments. My teachers in school actually support my golf training. I eventually want to turn pro if I can, but before that I want to finish my education and go to university. I can study while I keep training.

"Also, it's quite easy for us to play golf now. For young players like me, it's very cheap to play. Sometimes, it's even free."

According to Yunnan Sports Bureau, co-organizer of the Yunnan Open, golf's popularity has shown dramatic growth in the province over the past decade, with more high-level tournaments scheduled.

Also, Yunnan has made golf a part of the province's Belt and Road sports industry development strategy, along with other sports like cycling and soccer.

As a result, many preferential policies have been unveiled.

"Yunnan Golf Association made a proposal suggesting that all of the clubs in Yunnan should give discounts to underage golfers, and lots of clubs have made it a reality," said Gong Lei, deputy secretary-general of the association.

"Now, young players from all over the world can enjoy discounts after registration if they come to play in Yunnan.

"For domestic professional players, we also offer all kinds of discounts providing them with a comfortable and convenient atmosphere for training.

"Under the auspice of the China Golf Association, we have launched programs to promote golf development in schools. We help teachers and students learn more about the sport so they can see that golf is an activity for everyone, not just the elite."

Gong said the Yunnan Open provides a great opportunity for people to gain an up-close-and-personal experience of golf, which will further increase the sport's popularity.

"With all of these tournaments, we can attract more people to watch and know the sport," he said. "Through these tournaments, we want more people to know golf, especially Yunnan's golf. As our slogan says, 'Colorful Yunnan is a golf paradise'."

Yunnan's efforts have also paid dividends for veteran golfers. He Shaocai, a 35-year-old former professional wrestler, is one of the most dramatic examples.

"I retired as a wrestler when I was 20 years old, and then golf attracted me," said He, who is also a Yunnan local. "I started my golf training in 2000 and turned pro in 2007.

"Years ago, people might have to spend about 1,000 yuan ($159) to play one round of golf in China.

"Now, we only have to pay about 200 yuan in Yunnan. For a year, we might only just need to spend 2,000 to 3,000 yuan. Everyone can play.

"To increase golf's popularity, it must not be considered an elite sport. It's good for people of all age groups, from kids to 70-year-olds.

"With the government's support, there are more and more golf tournaments in Yunnan, which will make the sport more and more popular."

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