Golf in China Today
We all got a good look at ShanShan Feng this year as she won a major on our home soil. She played like the pro she is, but we didn’t expect to see her at the top because we’re unaccustomed to seeing her country at the top of this game. So, where did this excellent player come from? I don’t believe that she came from a program or national regimen with the support of expertise and sponsorship. More than these, she came from a national imagination and earnestness that has surprised the world many times. She came from a country that had no designation of “professional golfer” until the mid-90s, and even then, most were teaching pros.
In the seventies, during the Cultural Revolution, China took gymnasts, turned them into ballerinas, and premiered the highly nationalistic White-Haired Girl internationally. It took a couple of years, which is absurdly quick. Apparently, they’re doing it again with golf, even though the heart of the government is not necessarily behind the project. It’s the use of the national imagination in a slightly different way from many countries – not as much long-term planning. Do, do it now, and do it with a massive sense of commitment to perfection – no apathy tolerated.
One columnist has aptly reminded us that the golf industry in China is still younger than Tiger Woods, and yet, they already have a woman winning majors in the west. The expansion and refinement statistics are astonishing, with the principal emphasis in the province of Hainan. In fact, out of environmental concerns and an elitist atmosphere surrounding the game, new courses are, for the time being, banned everywhere else. There is much truth to this, for now. Green fees are terribly expensive, and memberships would buy a nice house in the U.S. Courses are difficult to keep open, as the government has levied a 24% tax on them. In the old days, the game was referred to as the “green opium,” and apparently, a lot of the old guards haven’t been outside to try it.
And yet, there is a China Golf Association, and a Chinese tour, sponsored by corporations outside the country. It is the hope that two events will be added each year, and the present number includes a dozen tournaments. But the big prize, the central attraction, the grand high hoohaw of the golf world, already situated in this country that has barely begun to put it all together? Guangzhou Mission Hills. That’s twelve courses of 18 holes, and an 18 hole par three course. Eleven of them are championship courses designed by international luminaries.
The World Cup course was designed by Jack Nicklaus, and the others are named for their designers, as follows: Norman, Annika, Els, Vijay, Faldo, Olazabel, Duval, Ozaki, Leadbetter, Pete Dye and Zhian Lianwei. Already, Guangzhou is under duress by Shandong, with 279 holes. It’s the war of the Guinness Book.
ShanShan Feng, born in ’89, came into prominence along with the first efforts of China’s golf industry, making her a national trailblazer. The first Chinese LPGA member, the first woman from China to win an American major (with four bogey-free rounds) had to have come from somewhere with a strong support system. Well, as it turns out, guess where she was born – that’s right, Guangzhou.
Apparently, we’re not going to wait another twenty years to see China emerge among the great golfing nations, because China just doesn’t work that way.