Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have both tipped China to become a golfing powerhouse, saying it was only a matter of time with the game’s popularity exploding.
The country only opened its first course — the Chung Shan Hot Springs Golf Club about 80km across the Pearl River Estuary from Hong Kong — in 1984. Twenty-five years later and, by some estimates, it now has around 500 courses and the world’s top players see huge growth to come.
Woods said that Chinese sportsmen had excelled at most sports that had government backing, and once that came for golf there would be no limits.
“If you look at countries like Sweden, where the government got behind kids’ programs and funded them and let them travel into Italy and Spain, just look at how many Swedish golfers they produced,” he said yesterday. “China has done the same thing in pretty much every other sport, except for golf.”
“It will be interesting to see what happens if they make a push toward that, and if they do then there’s no question they will become a powerhouse in golf, due to the size of the population and the number of courses being built,” Woods said.
Golf’s inclusion in the 2016 Olympics would also help, added Woods, who tees off on the HSBC Champions in Shanghai today.
The event has been upgraded to become an elite World Golf Championship tournament and world No. 2 Mickelson said it reflected how far China had come in such a short time.
“With golf becoming an Olympic sport, with China’s commitment to the Olympics and golf, I believe the exposure of the world’s best players in Shanghai will drive the game of golf in China and in Asia,” he said.
Zhang Xiaoning, general secretary of the China Golf Association, called this year a momentous year for the sport in China.
“It is 25 years since our first modern golf course was built and this is the perfect time to pause and consider everything that has been achieved by our players, our administrators and our golf industry,” he said.
“Now we must work hard to capitalize on the opportunities, work hard with our golfers to prove they have the talent to compete at this level and to convince the world that our players deserve more chances at this level,” Zhang said.