On the verge of golf's golden age in china

Updated: 2012-10-07 07:54

By Lei Lei(China Daily)

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On the verge of golf's golden age in china

Chinese golfer Zhang Lianwei will try to extend his impressive run in the Macao Open when it tees off on Thursday. Zhang has won the event twice, finished in the top 10 six times and missed just one cut - due to an injury. Provided to China Daily

On the verge of golf's golden age in china

The Asian Tour plans to stage full-field tournaments here again as game grows ahead of Olympic inclusion, Lei Lei writes.

As an Olympic sport at the 2016 Rio Games, golf is set for a golden developmental period in Asia - especially China. The Asian Tour's chief has vowed to stage full-field tournaments in China and predicts a breakout Asian star is not far away.

"We are committed to helping the game grow across Asia, including China," said Mike Kerr, chief executive officer of the Asian Tour.

"The Asian Tour and our secondary circuit, the Asian Development Tour (ADT), will offer the best opportunities for Asian players to qualify for the Olympics in Rio through the World Golf Rankings. Through our two tours we will offer more than 40 tournaments with world ranking points from 2013, which will help Asian players improve their rankings," Kerr told China Daily recently.

Since 2009, the Asian Tour has faced a strong challenge from another golf tour, OneAsia, and China has exclusively sent its players to OneAsia over the past few years.

This year, there are only two tournaments in China on the Asian Tour schedule, one in Macao and one in Dongguan, Guangdong province.

However, Kerr plans to expand on that in the near future.

"Yes, we would like to stage full-field Asian Tour tournaments in China again. During the mid-2000s, the Asian Tour hosted between six to eight events annually in China, which brought great benefits to Chinese golfers," said the 41-year-old Briton, who joined the Asian Tour in March after spending more than 18 years in various senior management roles across Asia.

"Over the last few years, the China Golf Association (CGA) has declined our invitation to send their players to compete on the Asian Tour through the country exemptions available. However, we are in dialogue with the CGA and hope to get their players back on our tours very soon. We are also confident of going back into China to stage Asian Tour events in cooperation with the CGA.

"Since 2009, the CGA has worked only with OneAsia, which we feel restricts the full potential of Chinese players. The Korean Golf Tour works with OneAsia, but they also work with the Asian Tour and we have three tournaments in South Korea. Through this arrangement, South Korea is maximizing the opportunities for their players to develop and play in tournaments."

Besides going back to China, setting up "an iconic golf event to rival the majors in the next three to five years" is Kerr's other great goal.

"We are already in the market place to create an iconic event on the Asian Tour," he said.

"Asia certainly has the potential and economic strength to initiate and stage additional and significant events that will complement those we already have, and that will define the Asian Tour. This could take several years to come to fruition, but we are very optimistic we can pull this off."

An Asian golf superstar is also predicted by Kerr.

"I am very confident that the Asian Tour will produce our very own 'Asian Tiger' in the near future," he said.

"We have produced many great young champions over the years, most notably South Korea's Noh Seung-yul, who was our youngest Order of Merit champion in 2010. He has since gone on to make a name for himself on the PGA Tour and it will not surprise me if he goes on to win a major or become world No 1 as he is only 21 years old. There are many other young Asian Tour champions who have the potential to go very far in their careers. India's Anirban Lahiri and Gaganjeet Bhullar, Thailand's Arnond Vongvanij and China's very own Hu Mu have the ability and desire to become champions on the world stage."

The competitions' promoter agreed.

"I certainly believe that Asia will continue to produce talented and highly competitive golfers and will produce champions," said Grant Slack, senior vice-president of IMG Golf Asia Pacific.

"The Asian ladies on the LPGA have won many times and champions inspire future champions. I believe that the same trend will follow in the men's game. I do believe that the next global golfing superstar will come from Asia, and IMG is well positioned to assist with their development."

Last year, IMG brought the Macao Open back to the Asian Tour calendar. Slack believes the tournament is essential for golf's development in China.

"The Macao Open was one of the most iconic events on the Asian Tour calendar, and it was a shame that it was discontinued in 2010," he said.

"IMG understood that the Macao Open was the pride of the Macao residents, and that its 14-year history was something to be preserved and celebrated. The Macao Open also possesses immense potential that was largely untapped over past editions. Hong Kong and Southern China is a short ferry ride away from Macao, and the significant population of golf aficionados could easily have come to watch this international event. This is where IMG can step in, with its substantial expertise in event management and promotion, to help the Macao Open become the centerpiece in the Asian Tour calendar."

To further promote golf throughout China, Slack said IMG already has some irons in the fire.

"IMG is already involved in many ways; with the WGC-HSBC Champions and with the R&A, CGA and HSBC in the CGA HSBC Junior Golf program, where we helped put golf clubs in the hands of over 120,000 boys and girls last year alone," Slack said.

"We also represent golfers, organize, promote and stage tournaments and design and manage golf courses in China. I am optimistic about IMG's role in helping to continue to develop the industry. One of our priorities is to bring an international LPGA tournament back to China as we believe hosting world-class tournaments drives interest, allows the local enthusiasts to see the world's best in person, it inspires the next generation to take up the sport and allows the Chinese players the opportunity to compete at the very highest level."

(China Daily 10/07/2012 page11)