Once upon a time the golf was frowned upon as a bourgeoisie pastime by China’s Communist Party. But all that has changed and the sort stands on the edge of a golden age in the country.
In a year of golf stories that simply couldn’t have been scripted; the European Ryder Cup team coming back from the dead to beat the Americans, Ernie Els winning Open Championship or Rory McIlroy’s millions, but probably the most telling, and the story that may well prove to have the biggest impact on the future of the game, was the Chinese youngster Andy Zhang becoming the youngest golfer to ever compete in the US Open.
Once frowned upon as ‘bourgeoisie’ the game was banned by the Communist Party until the building of the country’s first golf course in 1984 and has seen an explosion in numbers of player since then. There are now over 300,000 registered golf players in China, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the size of the population but the numbers are expected to grow exponentially in the next decade.
China’s nouveau riche have embraced the game and are ploughing money into new courses and facilitates. It is not unusual to see parents fork out 300,000 Yuan (37,000 euro) a year on lessons with the view to an impressive return on investment as the sport grows and money begins to slosh around the Asian Tour.
With the game set to be officially reinstalled as an Olympic sport in Brazil in four years’ time it unlocks the door to valuable national funding and interest in the most medal-conscious country in the world. While world golf at the moment is very Euro-American-centric the women’s game has been dominated fro the last three years by Taiwanese Yani Tseng, while Chinese national Shanshan Feng is fifth in the world rankings. Even in these early days there has been no shortage of Asian role models in the sport to inspire the potential millions of young Chinese players.
So does this mean Europe and America will be left behind? Not necessarily, although a clear strategy is needed to deal with the burgeoning competition, but it has been proved time and time again that the golf course is a place where East and West can live happily side-by-side. The intrinsic etiquette of the game appeals to the Asian mind as does the Zen-like qualities of concentration and the mastering of your own thoughts, stillness in movement etc. So building of a Chinese golfing Empire may prove also a boon to European and American golf, the aim should be that they are positioned at the centre of this growth and not on the periphery.
What America and especially Europe can provide is tradition, and that includes the attitudes and care for the environment that go hand in hand with the cultivation of a good course. Tourism to the famous and beautiful courses in the West will always provide funding that can be pumped back into the game, and as more tours and competitions come into effect their will be more incentive and opportunities for young Western players. As we’ve seen, the Chinese dominance of certain Olympic sports hasn’t damaged the other nations at all, only raised the bar, which is always a good thing.