Tue, Nov 27, 2001 - Page 16 News List

Taiwan's Open needs locals

TOPPING TIGER The BMW Asian Open was a success in terms of play and international exposure, but it also showed that golf in Taiwan needs grassroots support

By Jeffrey Wilson  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

It's going to take a lot of work and money to top the appearance of Tiger in Taiwan.

Two years ago, Woods appeared at the Johnnie Walker Classic as tens of thousands of people flocked to the Westin Resort Ta Shee each day.

Even former President Lee Teng-hui showed up for an informal lesson from the world's number one player.

But last week's inaugural BMW Asian Open showed how difficult it will be to attract Taiwan's notoriously fickle sports fans to a tournament that doesn't include Woods.

Even though there was a strong field of international players and perfect weather, just a couple hundred fans turned out on the first few days, with a final round audience officially pegged at 8,000.

Among those to notice the poor turnout was Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez. When asked how a tournament in Taiwan differs from one in Europe, his simple response was: "There aren't as many people around."

Perhaps Taiwan golf fans think they have seen it all?

Over the past decade, Taiwan was first given a taste of top-level golf in one-day exhibition events with the likes of the late Payne Stewart, Greg Norman, and Ernie Els.

The presence of Woods and a full-blown European Tour event will likely be a sporting spectacle that Taiwan will not top for decades.

BWM officials know that grabbing the attention of fans and building the event will take patience, as well as a huge investment.

"We want to establish a tournament that many people here see," said Ingo Wirth, tournament director for BWM Golf, who said he was not surprised by the low attendance.

"It's hard to motivate people for the first time. It will be easier to promote next year," he said.

Wirth said that they did pass the first hurdle by working with the Westin Resort and managing to pull the event off without a hitch.

"Our main objective was to find a partner and to bring a perfectly organized tournament to Taiwan. That is something that we can build on for next year," said Wirth.

The odds are that they can succeed.

Golf is likely the only major international sport that can realistically be staged in Taiwan.

The interest -- Taiwan's huge numbers of golfers -- and the facilities have already arrived.

The Ta Shee course has proven that it can both accommodate a crush of people while providing a challenging layout for the world's best players.

Given the right appearance money, there is no reason why the world's top players would not play regular tour events in Taiwan.

By contrast, don't expect to see the Yankees or Manchester United visiting any time soon.

Moreover, officials in the Government Information Office should be paying attention as the event received hundreds of hours of overseas television coverage, press attention and international recognition.

The fact that the tournament went ahead so soon after the Sept. 11 attacks should also be noted.

It might be expected, however, that every effort should be made to ensure that in the future, Taiwan's best golfers are invited to play in the richest tournament in their country.

As a result it is far more likely that fans will turn up to see their favorite local players, as they turned up to cheer on Taiwan in the Baseball World Cup.

It could also be argued that the top Taiwanese players on the Japanese Tour were more deserving of an appearance fee than struggling Nick Faldo.

Or even US golfer John Daly, who was able to overcome his well know fear of flying to cross the Atlantic for the German Masters last month, but decided at the last minute he could not make it across the Pacific to Taiwan.

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