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Developing a legacy in China golf

By Richtone | China Daily | Updated: 2008-04-17 07:26

The development of the Volvo China Open during its first 14 years has largely benefited from a small group of golf-passionate club owners who have given their time, money and effort to ensure the success of the national championship.

During the first three years of the event in 1995 to 1997, the owners behind Beijing International provided the use of their club to stage the Open for what was largely an unknown sport in the country at the time. In 1999, the tournament entered the "Silport era" when the Shanghai club and its golf-mad owner, Beta Soong, would go on to host the event an unprecedented seven times during the next nine years.

 Developing a legacy in China golf

Beta Soong (right), Chairman of Silport Golf Club hands over the flag to Li Hao, Chairman of CBD Golf Club at 2007 Volvo China Open. Paul Lakatos

Li Hao is another developer now figuring prominently in Volvo China Open history. This year, the Hunan province native is hosting the championship at his Beijing CBD International Club, the second time in the past three years the Open has been staged at one of his clubs.

In 2006, the Open was contested at the property developer's Beijing Honghua International Club when Indian Jeev Milkha Singh won the championship after a memorable duel down the final hole with Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Considering the chairman of the Orient Homemain Group owns three golf clubs with another two under construction, Li said he would host the championship every year if given the opportunity.

"The national championship is very important for China golf, for both golfers and the business of golf alike," said the 50-year-old. "Golf in China is just beginning compared with America and Europe, but it is quickly being embraced here as a sport that can be enjoyed by all.

"With the championship being held in the northern part of China this year, this provides exposure for golf, especially in a political center like Beijing. This year is very important for China and Beijing with the Olympics coming here. It makes sense for the tournament to return to Beijing this year and I am sure it will generate a huge amount of attention. This is a very important pre-Olympic event."

Li, an 18-handicap and a father of three, said he had been playing golf for just over 10 years. He tries to get out for a game about twice a week on average. He called the 2006 hosting of the Open at his Nick Faldo-designed Honghua club a great learning experience for all his staff involved in golf operations.

"The 2006 championship was very good for our Honghua team and the whole Homemain Group. Because of the Open, the visibility of our club was raised almost instantly and internationally. Our members take great pride in telling people China's national championship was staged at their club.

"For our staff, it provided them with an opportunity to know about international golf, what is its meaning and the service levels that are expected. It provided a big change as our club is now very famous in China and around Asia because of the Volvo China Open."

Li, who also owns the Changchun Clean Moon Lake Forest Golf Club in Jilin province, a 36-hole Pete Dye Course that is under construction in Tianijin, and another in the planning in the southern Hainan Island, said great preparation had gone into CBD International for this year's Open.

(China Daily 04/16/2008 page26)

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