Sat, Nov 13, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Big plans for minigolf

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

With the annual Johnny Walker Classic now relocated to China and the cessation of other international tournaments such as the BMW Open, the nation's once busy golfing calendar has been slashed to near zero in recent years. Golf may be the on decline, but if Tsai Teh-lung (蔡特龍) has his way, then the nation could soon become a major player in the world of ... minigolf.

Reportedly invented in Sweden in 1937, minigolf is governed by the World Minigolf Federation (WMF) and has been played at a semi-professional level since the inaugural European Championships were held in 1959. The WMF has 36 member nations and a total of 40,000 playing and paying members on its books worldwide.

The sport remains hugely popular in Sweden, but Germany has for many years been considered the global center of minigolf. The country is home to the world minigolf governing body and with more than 5,000 minigolf courses and 13,500 officially recognized fulltime minigolfers, Germany is now officially the most minigolf mad country in the world.

Introduced six years ago to Taiwan by Tsai, who now heads the ROC (Taiwan) Minigolf Sport Association (TMA,中華民國迷你高爾夫球運動協會), minigolf is a minority sport in this country, but this didn't deter the TMA from hosting the Third Asian Minigolf Championship 2004 in October in an attempt to popularize the sport.

Established in 2000, the Asia Minigolf Championship is organized by the Asia Minigolf Sport Federation, which is based out of Chofu City, Tokyo and currently has five member nations -- Japan, India, Singapore, Thailand and Taiwan. The handful of Taiwanese minigolfers who took to mini-fairways to represent their country are all students of the Taipei Physical Education College's (台北市立體育學院) golf faculty.

Held at the Dachia Ying Feng Sport Park (大佳迎風河濱公園), adjacent to Dachia Riverside Park (大佳河濱公園), the 2004 Asian Minigolf Championship attracted 37 participants representing teams from Taiwan, Japan and Singapore and a dozen members of invitational teams from Germany and Finland. A team from Pakistan was forced to withdraw at the last minute because of problems securing visas.

After four days of play the title of Asian Champions went to Japan, with Taiwan coming a close second and Singapore's two-man team clinching third place. A special invitational tournament was won by Germany. Media coverage may have been sparse and the crowds were more curious on-lookers than minigolfing buffs, but organizers still hailed Taiwan's hosting of its first international miningolf tournament as a huge success.

"It was the first time Taiwan has hosted a competition and we didn't expect a huge turnout. People did come to watch, though, and the sport did generate some interest," said Chen Chun-liang (陳浚良) of the Taiwan Minigolf Association.

To host the event, the association appropriated funds totaling NT$6 million from the National Council of Physical Fitness and the Taipei City Government's Sports Council to construct the country's first competition-standard minigolf courses.

"We have tried to popularize [minigolf], but, still, very few people play it. Courses are expensive to build so it was a great boost for us that despite financial difficulties we were able to build two courses," Tsai said. "By hosting the competition we believe that more people will learn about minigolf and become players."

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