Sports / Golf

A new view of Chinese golf

By Tym Glaser (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-13 07:28

Englishman Leach leading the European Tour's charge in China

The golf world's focus was set firmly on Rory McIlroy's heroics on the back nine during the final round of the PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Kentucky on Sunday.

Among those enthusiasts of the stick-and-ball game, no doubt, would have been Simon Leach, the head of the European Tour's new Beijing office. However, his overall vision extends well beyond the greens of Louisville and deep into China.

The ET (not the alien) has established itself in a country slowly growing to appreciate the game through its recently-acquired Olympic status but the European Professional Golf Association still wants to consolidate its foothold with two major events per year and four Challenge tournaments. The 42-year-old Leach is at the forefront of the drive.

"A lot of people ask me why we are coming into the market but the European Tour has been here for a long time - since 1995, actually, with the Volvo China Open," Cheshire-born Leach said.

"The difference now is that we have a presence here; we have a physical office, we have people here, well, one person for now. We also have the BMW Masters in Shanghai ... and, of course, there are the HSBC Champions events.

"I want to maintain those two major events and hold others in the north of China and the south so we have the complete coverage ... I am looking at Shenzhen and Tianjin. I think that Shenzhen will be the first one to be announced, later this year, and Tianjin may take a little longer but then that's it because you have limited dates and you can't put too many events in China."

The Challenge events are the platform from which young Chinese golfers can leap to the higher levels of the game, and that particularly excites the Englishman who has been in the country for 20 years.

A new view of Chinese golf

"The Chinese Tour is the world's best platform for young players to get into the big time and the Chinese players need more playing opportunities. We already have two; the first one was staged last year in Foshan of Guangdong, The second one, which I will finalize soon, will be held in Chongqing.

"For the Chinese players these are the best platform for them ... they carry world ranking points which don't seem like a lot but, in golf, if you win two world ranking points you can shoot up the rankings."

The other two CT/Challenge venues are yet to be decided but Leach wants them to be at diverse locations to spread the game as far as possible.

"A very important thing for us is that we talk with the China Golf Association and then we find a long-term (sponsorship) partner which is not close to any government body or organization. Of course we work closely with the CGA but we would also like to have autonomy for each event."

Meanwhile, in the happy sponsorship ground known as China, where the world's elite sporting league's like to feast, the EPGA finds itself in direct competition with the premier USPGA, but Leach says the organizations rarely clash over ground.

"It's a large market and we both have our objectives; at the end of the day we are just trying to boost the game here," he said.

While all seems to be smooth sailing for the ET's new Beijing branch, single-staffer Leach has some concerns about the game here despite its growing popularity and the fact it is now an active Olympic sport.

"The Olympics have provided a tremendous boost to the sport here but the number of courses may be reduced here instead of increased due to government policies which would ultimately hinder the game," he said.

 A new view of Chinese golf

Simon Leach is currently playing as a one-man band for the European Tour in Beijing. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 08/13/2014 page23)

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