State Of The Game Podcast 47: Dan Washburn & China

After an exclusive three week tour of Europe, Scandinavia and the sub continent, State of the Game is back!

We're going to try and record a news-driven episode later in the week but with big men's events heading to China the next few weeks and his stellar new book to talk about, we welcomed Dan Washburn. Dan is a recovering journalist now working for the Asia Society out of Brooklyn. However his embedded account of life in China focusing on three men whose lives are tied to the golf industry is not only a fascinating look into the strange golf explosion, but a breezy, enlightening way to learn about life in China.

I recently got to hear Dan speak at USC when he was in town promoting the book and was thrilled to get him on State of the Game. You can check out Dan's book and website here, and buy it here at Amazon,

As for the show, you can listen to the MP3 here, listen here, subscribe to the show via iTunes here and listen to episode 47 here on iTunes.

Is China Demolishing Illegal Golf Courses?

Clare Jim and Xiaoyi Shao of Reuters file an investigative look at multiple golf courses that appear to have been demolished by the Chinese government for violating the 2004 ban on building "golf courses." They outline how many developers have gotten around this by calling their properties "sports training centers" or "tourist resorts."

Note the photo with the story showing the method to prevent people from crossing barriers onto the demolished courses. Thanks to reader Jeff for sending in this excellent Reuters report, which includes this:

During a recent visit to the 60-hectare (148-acre) site, a villager in his 20s told Reuters how workers wiped out virtually all trace of the course in a few weeks.

"Trucks went in and out. They almost destroyed the road in our village," said the man, surnamed Wang, who declined to give his full name.

Someone has since planted corn on parts of the muddy land.

The NDRC said the course had been built by Lao He Wan Investment Co under the guise of the Delong Agricultural Model Park. Reuters could not find any trace of the company. Local authorities responsible for the district did not respond to requests for comment.

Among the other courses demolished, one was built in southwestern Yunnan province by a subsidiary of medium-sized Chinese property developer Agile Property Holdings Ltd, the NDRC said. Agile declined to comment.

All five developers were fined.

HSBC Really Wishes Tiger Was Playing This Week

Generally I find the stories of late where sponsors complain about the lack of star presence to be a bit silly since golf is now a 52-week-a-year global sport and most of them signed on knowing this. However, after reading the grumbling of HSBC's Giles Morgan about Tiger's non-appearance in this week's WGC-HSBC despite being in China, I can kind of see the point.

Reported by Doug Ferguson from Shanghai:

Morgan said he was told a few months ago by Woods' agent that this was not going to work with his schedule. After a week of corporate work, Woods is playing (for another big appearance fee) in the Turkish Open, a European Tour event.

Like other overseas events, HSBC once paid to get the best players. But now that it's a full-fledged WGC, big appearance fees have been replaced by an $8.5 million purse.

"What I can't do is pay him," Morgan said. "And I feel enormously strong about that. This is a World Golf Championship. This is the flagship event of Asia. This is going to be the beacon to carry the game into this continent for many years to come. We could do the wrong thing by golf and drop the prize money right down and just pay one or two players huge fees. From a publicity standpoint, that would give us a certain amount of kudos because we'd get the top player in the world. And I'm absolutely not going down that route.

"We have an opportunity to be a genuine top 10 event in the world," he said. "That requires a massive investment, which we're pleased to do. And that means we want to be an authentic sponsor in the world of golf."

Of course HSBC also might think it's owed a favor as a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center, but as opening day headliner Bill Clinton can tell you, that doesn't mean a whole lot to Woods. And that may be why he's down to two blue chip sponsors.

WSJ: Most Of China's Golfers Have Never Set Foot On A Course

With Monday's "Match at Mission Hills" featuring Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, John Paul Newport looks at golf in China and shares some staggering numbers.

Of course, the numbers are estimates...

These days there are roughly 600 courses in China and possibly one million golfers: estimates vary. Townend puts the figure at 700,000 and guesses that half have only hit balls at practice ranges—of which there are several thousand—never on a course.

"The average annual salary in China is something like $2,100 and the average cost to play golf is around $150 a round," said Dan Washburn, an American journalist who lived for several years in China and wrote "The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream" due next spring. "Golf isn't even on the mind of the average Chinese person. It's perceived as a rich man's game, and that's true, more so in China probably than anywhere else in the world."

Speaking of rich guys, the Back Nine Network is streaming the match except in the U.S., citing PGA Tour rules forbidding anything hosted by Ahmad Rashad to be censored.

That's a shame since last year's match featured arguably the best TV moment of the year when Tiger openly admitted his struggles with Sean Foley's swing ideas and dropped some colorful language in describing how he was hitting his short irons.

It was as if they didn't know they were being recorded!

Golf.com has posted a slideshow of the Blackstone Course at Mission Hills where the event will be played.

China Drought Blamed On Golf Courses That Technically Do Not Exist

Carolynne Wheeler on the increasing animosity from state-run media directed at Chinese golf courses using ground water supplies even though a 2004 edict banned the building of new courses, meaning only 10 of the 600 or so technically exist.

“Given the fact that 400 of the more than 600 cities in China are suffering from water shortages, the rapid depleting of underground water to keep the hundreds of golf courses green will likely prove to have severe consequences for many cities in the near future,” read an editorial in the English-language China Daily newspaper, which accused Beijing’s golf courses of using nearly 40 million tons of underground water annually, equal to the amount consumed by 1 million residents a year, despite the city’s water shortages.

Still, this latest round of ranting is likely to pass without much dampening of enthusiasm for the sport.

The go-to guy on all things China and golf, Dan Washburn, is quoted in the story but shares his entire Q&A with the story author on his own site. It makes for an interesting read about the wildly complex golf industry in China.

"The fact golf will be included at the Olympic Games in 2016 and 2022 is bound to give the game a boost in a country that has more value for an Olympic gold medal than a Green Jacket from Georgia."

Literary looper Colin Byrne writes from Shanghai on the state of golf in China and among the many interesting observations, he reminds us that in China golf is still very much a niche sport for the rich, but there is hope that the Olympic movement will help expand interest beyond a select audience.

I spoke to Michael Wong, who is in charge of developing Chinese junior golf. One of the early initiatives was to get talented juniors to hit a shot to the 17th hole at Sheshan during the pro-am for the tournament. We were all impressed by most of the swings these youngsters made in front of the professionals. Their progress since its conception four years ago is already evident; the tee they were playing from was farther back this year and the hole is a long carry over water.

The chances are these young hopefuls come from a wealthy background. With a membership at the exclusive Sheshan Golf Club costing over 1.6 million yuan and with 500,000 yuan (€177,191) being a pretty normal membership fee, there are not too many citizens from the fields in the market for these clubs yet. But there are initiatives being made to reach out to the less well off.

Without it sounding like an altruistic effort on behalf of the developers in China, there are plenty of courses being built at personal expense. Even though there is a moratorium on course building, in true local fashion courses are still developing. There are 600-700 courses already built and that will double in the next five years. They somehow estimate by then 10 million Chinese will play the game.