• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Game in Far East now in full swing

The gravy train departing platform 18 is the Orient Express.

At this time of the golfing season, the passengers are all enjoying a series of money-laden stop-offs in cash-soaked carriages. It's a bit like birling around the Cathcart Circle on pay day.

This week, the great and the good are in Shanghai for the $7m BMW Masters while other well-known first-class ticket holders are in Malaysia for the $6m CIMB Classic. Next week, China hosts the $7m WGC HSBC Champions before the touring circus steams into Singapore for the $6m Barclays Singapore Open. It's quite a timetable and the Far East is at the centre of the golfing world just now.

Even the women's circuit has jumped aboard in search of this Eastern Promise with both the LPGA Tour's Taiwan Championship and the Ladies' European Tour's China Suzhon Taihu Open taking place in this corner of the globe over the weekend.

Back in 1000AD, those lavish living folk of the Song Dynasty battered about with a stick and a ball in a pastime known as Chiuwan, a game that had some similarities to golf. It's taken a while for the Royal & Ancient game to get going in China but it's now winding itself up into full swing.

Banned by the communist party until the 1980s for being too bourgeois, the first modern-day course was not constructed until 1984 when the Arnold Palmer designed Chung Shan Hot Springs opened. Come 1995, this vast nation had staged its first significant international event, the World Cup, at the sprawling, 12-course golfing Xanadu that is the Mission Hills resort.

The BMW Asian Open, the Volvo China Open and, now the BMW Masters and WGC event, have all since emerged as huge hitters on the global scene. The European Tour's traditional haunts continue to feel the financial pinch – five events on the continent disappeared this year for financial reasons – but its eastern extension is in rude health.

The speed of the growth is unrelenting and it has been suggested that in as little as three years' time, there will be more European Tour events in Asia than on continental Europe itself.

It may remain a game that is considered to be prohibitively expensive for the general public – recent figures indicated that there were around 360,000 core players – but it has been estimated that the figure will grow to 20 million by 2020.

Success stories like Feng Shanshan, who became the first Chinese golfer to win a major at this season's LPGA Championship, and Beijing-born 14-year-old Andy Zhang, who qualified for the men's US Open in June, have all helped to fuel the fire.

On the wider Asian front, the all-conquering crusades of this region's women, launched by Korea's trail-blazing Pak Se Ri at the end of the 1990s and carried on to this day by Taiwan's world No.1 Tseng Yani, illustrates the discipline, dedication and determination that is at the root of this growth.

"The Asian work ethic is important to remember," reflected David Leadbetter, the world renowned coach who has academies spanning America, Europe and Asia. "They go at golf like a business and it suits their temperament, their mind-set and, of course, that work ethic."

There is a word of caution, though. "I have two academies in Korea and two in China and those places are full of youngsters hitting golf balls," he added. "They work maybe eight to 10 hours a day. In that sense golf has become like tennis has been for years. Parents invest everything into these kids and in return the kids try to give everything back. The downside to this is that most will fail and that there will also be burn-out."

In the meantime, it's boom time. Yesterday in Shanghai, Welshman Jamie Donaldson upstaged Europe's Ryder Cup heroes in the opening round of the BMW Masters as his bid for the £700,000 top prize began with a sizzling course- record 10-under-par 62.

Donaldson finished four shots clear of European team members Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari with Rory McIlroy, the world No.1, and Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olzabal a stroke further back on 67 and Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer also in the top 10 on 68s. Paul Lawrie posted a 69 but Richie Ramsay finished near the foot of the field after a 75.

At the Mines resort in Malaysia, Tiger Woods, returning to the course where he won the World Cup with Mark O'Meara 13 years ago, opened the CIMBA Classic with a five-under 66 to lurk three behind early leader Troy Matteson. Glasgow's Martin Laird shot a 68.

On the LPGA Tour in Taiwan, Catriona Matthew's 70 left her five behind South Korea's Park Inbee, who fired a seven-under 65 to lead by two from host nation superstar, Tseng Yani.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

122231