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Are golf 's Li Na, Yao Ming right around the dogleg left?

By A. Thomas Pasek | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-02 08:47

Depending on whom you ask, the game of golf is either a relatively new sport in China, or it has an over millennium-long history here.

And the game encountered its fair share of sand traps and water hazards, even being banned for a period a few decades back for its being associated with decadence, conspicuous consumption and colonialism.

In fact, I actually remember a Chinese exchange student asking me what I did one weekend, and when I told her I hit the links, her response was, "Oh, how bourgeois".

Well, with China's rapid climb up the global GDP rankings, now standing confidently in the global No 2 position, the commensurate rise in living standards and disposable incomes are shining a brighter collective spotlight on the outdoorsy game of tees, fairways and greens.

But back to an interesting facet of the sport's history. It seems there are two camps that don't see eye-to-eye on who invented the game, even after a party of four might loosen up on the proverbial 19th hole-golfspeak for the clubhouse and attendant adult beverages. Although the historical arguments regarding golf 's homeland pale in comparison to the current Hatfield vs McCoy like squabbling between fans of the established PGA Tour and the upstart Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series-a land devoid of a long history of the game but with plenty of potential sand traps. But this dispute is the subject for another day.

Scotland and China are seen as the two most likely birthplaces of the game.

Those who argue that the sport was first played in the northern British Isles point to one of the first historical references to the game, when King James II apparently had it banned in 1457 because it got in the way of archery practice.

I can imagine future Robin Hoods at the time having to wait for a party of four to pass through the fifth hole before letting a hail of arrows loose at a target scarecrow. When a golfer's tee shot goes awry, she is expected to shout "fore"! Not sure what the warning is for an errant arrow however. Makes one quiver.

Anyhow, another party of golf historians is equally adamant that an ancient early prototype of the sport originated here in China in the 10th century.

An interesting facet to this friendly debate is that in late 2019, when the world was still free of COVID-19, Scotland had 614 golf courses while China ranked just behind with 600. Now, nearly three years on, China has surely surpassed old Caledonia with the world's most populous nation's seemingly tireless building boom. That is quite a growth spurt because there were no golf courses in China as recently as 1983.

China dominates several sports in international competitions, like table tennis, badminton, and several aquatic disciplines. And the country had big stars on the global stage with the likes of tennis star Li Na, and the NBA's Yao Ming.

But despite some recent standouts, China is still awaiting one of its own to make it big on the links.

With the world's biggest pool of potential tee-time talent (ie a population of 1.4 billion), and its second-biggest economy, I am sure it's only a matter of time and tenacity before the country develops global talent on the fairways and maybe sports a green jacket or two in the foreseeable future.

"Fore" could be a new cognate addition to the Chinese sporting lexicon.

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