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More Chinese get into swing of golf

Updated: 2012-03-14 08:04
By Li Jing ( China Daily)

The spring sunshine is yet to arrive in chilly Beijing, but golf enthusiasts are too eager to wait until the grass turns green.

Many of the capital's 100-plus golf courses opened on March 1, attracting a large number of players who have been stuck at indoor golf simulators for the winter.

Despite a nationwide ban on building new golf courses in 2004, the once-exclusive sport is booming, largely among the expanding middle class.

The number of courses in China has more than tripled since 2004, from 170 to almost 600, according to Beijing Forestry University's golf education and research center.

Industry insiders hope the growing popularity of golf will draw more attention to the sport, rather than what it represents to some people.

Dan Washburn, a writer from the United States who is working on a book about the development of golf in China, wrote on his blog: "It (golf) hits all the right buttons. It's an elitist - especially in China - Western activity that is emblematic of many of China's current challenges: Government corruption, environmental concerns, land-rights issues, the gap between rich and poor."

Zheng Yaxin, a golf and tennis coach in Beijing, said the sport should not take all the blame: "After all, it's a healthy sport and is becoming more affordable for the general public."

Chang Zhihui, a researcher at the golf education and research center, estimated that 600,000 people on the Chinese mainland are members of a golf club. The figure is expected to increase by 20 percent annually in coming years.

Meanwhile, according to a study by KPMG, a global professional service network, the average membership fee in China is about 240,000 yuan ($37,900). (It did not stipulate what kind of membership: annual or lifetime.)

However, golfers do not need to be members to practice their swing.

In addition to the more than 100 courses in Beijing, there are also plenty of driving ranges, which take up less land and are easier to maintain. The number of indoor golf simulators in the capital is also on the rise.

"Golf is no longer deemed a sport for rich businessmen and celebrities, as it used to be," Zheng said. "Nowadays, more white-collar workers are signing up for coaching sessions to learn from scratch or to improve their skills."

She added that more women and teenagers are also joining the sport.

Subsequently, the demand for qualified caddies and coaches is also set to rocket in the coming years. This will see an expansion and optimization of the whole industry, Zheng said.

Contact the writer at lij@chinadaily.com.cn.

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