Reuters: Chinese Golfers Urged To WD From Taiwan Event By Higher Ups

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This week’s friendly (cautionary) tale for a world of golf eager to cash in on all things golf in China comes in the form of a Reuters report by Peter Reynolds. The short version: sources say someone “high up” in China urged the golfers to pass on this week’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.

China, which views self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province, has ramped up pressure to assert its sovereignty. Ties have deteriorated since 2016, when President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party came to power.

The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in its second such operation this year, as its military steps up the frequency of transits through the busy strategic waterway, despite opposition from China.

Shanshan Feng and rookie Yu Liu are the two players, both given billing on tournament websites. Reynolds quotes Liu as saying the late WD was not for personal reasons.

WSJ: "The Next Chinese Trade Advantage: Professional Golfers"

Thanks to reader John for Brian Costa's overview of China and golf as Shanshan Feng is the top-ranked female player and Haotong Li continues to progress, entering The Masters as the highest-ever ranked Chinese golfer (No. 41).

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However their success seems unlikely to sustain the Chinese game as long as courses are considered illegal, a minor glitch in golf's grand plan to profit on the creation of overpriced, overbuilt courses.

But the obstacles are greater in China, where more than 200 courses have been closed as part of President Xi Jinping’s war on government corruption and gaudy symbols of wealth. Fewer than 500 courses remain in the country.

Gareth Winslow, a New Zealand-born golf coach who works in Shanghai, lost two jobs in recent years when a course and a driving range where he worked were abruptly shut down. “The bulldozers come in and just knock everything down, so there aren’t a lot of options after that,” he said.

And it still starts with driving ranges, par-3 courses and affordable places to start...

If Chinese professionals continue to make headlines overseas, it may draw more wealthy Chinese to the game, Winslow said, “but if China wants to become a global power in golf, there needs to be more accessibility.”

ShanShan: China Gets Its First No. 1 Player

With her third win at the LPGA's Blue Bay event on Hainan Island, Shanshan Feng becomes China's first player to top a world ranking. The bronze medalist in Rio understood the gravity of her win and also made light (at least in my reading) of the chaotic, course-closing, anti-golf madness that is hurting golf in China.

From Beth Ann Nichols' Golfweek.com report:

“I finished first in China, so I actually claimed the world No. 1 in front of all the people at home,” said Feng. “So I’m really happy about that, and I hope all the Chinese are going to be watching me, and the Chinese can play golf. Hopefully there will be more Chinese getting on the tours and more world No. 1’s coming up from China.”

Feng, a bronze medalist at the 2016 Olympics, closed with a 70 at the Blue Bay LPGA event on Hainan Island to win by one stroke over Moriya Jutanugarn. The elder Jutanugarn sister lipped out a short birdie putt on the final hole that would’ve forced a playoff. Earlier this season, Ariya Jutanugarn became the first player from Thailand to reach No. 1.

Go Figure Files: China State School Teaching Golf Edition

It's tough to fully grasp the Chinese government's ratched-up war on golf, but as The Telegraph's Neil Connor writes, one state school in Shanghai is teaching golf as an important social skill developer. And now other state schools are following suit.

Jingwulu Primary School, in Jinan, in the eastern Shandong province, introduced the sport to “foster children's strong determination, self-discipline and manners,” headmistress Ji Yankun said.

“I don’t think I am being over dramatic in calling it a gentleman’s sport, as there is so much good etiquette involved,” she told The Telegraph.

The school has installed practice nets in its grounds and drafted in coaches from Shandong Gold Golf Club to provide compulsory training to nine-year-old pupils.

The golf club is also consulting with four other schools to roll out the training across the province.

“Many children have fallen in love with the sport, which has been called 'the green opium',” said Shandong Gold's Jiang Chunqiu, using a phrase which is often used in China to portray golf as highly enjoyable, but a dangerous foreign import.

Well it can be addictive.

Wanda Group Courses Declared Illegal By Chinese Government

Gabriel Wildau reports for the Financial Times on the Chinese government has declared "illegal" two golf courses owned by the powerful Dalian Wanda Group.

The FT storys says this is part of "a campaign against luxury and waste ahead of a Communist party gathering that begins in Beijing this week" and continues the trend of high profile attacks on golf in China. Given the Wanda Group's international standing, even if the move is targeting the group for non-golf reasons, it appears to be yet another blow for the game in China.

The move is a blow to Wanda’s tourism and entertainment ambitions as the group seeks to diversify from shopping malls. The government of Fusong county in China’s northeastern province of Jilin has revoked permission for the two courses there, according to a notice dated October 1 seen by the Financial Times.

Wanda is one of a group of privately owned conglomerates, including HNA Group, Anbang Insurance Group, and Fosun International, that have come under scrutiny in recent months, with a particular focus on their overseas acquisitions. Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin tumbled from his position as China’s richest man, according to the country’s best-known rich list released last week, falling to fifth place in this year’s Hurun ranking.

The ChangBaishan International Resort facilities cited include one 18-hole Jack Nicklaus course and 36-holes of Robert Trent Jones designed golf. Also on site are several thousand hotel rooms, including a Sheraton, Hyatt, Westin and Holiday Inn(s).

Golf photographer Patrick Lim kindly shared some images he shot of the courses and facilities, which I think better illustrates the significance of the closures.




PGA Tour China In Limbo, Golf's China Hopes Dimming

Thanks to reader John for Wayne Ma's WSJ story on the latest blow to golf's China hopes.

PGA Tour China has struggled with the business practices of its China operations partner and has also been unable to get Chinese tournaments approved for its upcoming season, due to begin in May.

The game was banned by Mao Zedong as a bourgeois pastime, and more recently nearly 200 golf courses have been closed amid President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption by government officials and ostentatious displays of wealth.

The PGA Tour came to China with high hopes, seeking to expand the game’s popularity and perhaps find a breakout star who could do for golf what Yao Ming did for basketball.

And there was this from Shanghai University professor Liu Dongfeng on China's Olympic aspirations likely not including golf.

Seeing the potential for economic returns, China is now moving to make sports more of a commercial enterprise, he said, phasing out the old system where a government office is paired with a quasi-government association.

Liu said soccer was the first sport to abolish its government office in 2015 and basketball appears to be next, with Yao this year becoming the first head of the China Basketball Association not drawn from government ranks.

“In terms of priority, golf is absolutely not on the agenda,” Liu said. “The prospect for golf is not very bright, unfortunately.”

Don't Tell President Trump: China Orders 111 Golf Courses Closed

Stranger things have caused trade battles and even wars. I'm glad the president is busy in meetings today!

Anyway...in the exhausting, boring but predictably goofy saga that has been the dream of golf in China, the Communist Party is cracking down...again.

AP's Nomaan Merchant reports on the order of 111 courses ordered closed "to conserve water and land" while Party members have been reminded not to play golf. Again.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency said Sunday the courses were closed for improperly using groundwater, arable land or protected land within nature reserves. It said authorities have imposed restrictions on 65 more courses.

China banned the development of new golf courses in 2004, when it had fewer than 200. Since that time, the number of courses more than tripled to 683 before the new crackdown, Xinhua said.

Li's China Open Victory A Win For HSBC's Grassroots Support

While the Volvo China Open didn't sport the greatest field in the tour's history, a tip of the cap to HSBC for getting to see the first European Tour winner from its CGA-HSBC China Junior Program, the only sanctioned program for aspiring players in the country currently hostile to the game.

"Grow the game" has become a tired and obnoxious phrase wheeled out way too often in the name of trying to justify greed or pandering, but when the results are tangible like this, I say let 'em pat themselves on the back. Especially after Haotong Li contended at last fall's WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and looks to be headed toward big things.
 
From Giles Morgan, HSBC's man in golf:

“Haotong Li’s win clearly demonstrates just how far golf in China has come over the last decade and what an exciting future the game has. It’s an incredible story of human ambition and shows exactly why HSBC supports golf and why our junior programs are so important to our sponsorships around the world. A win for any golfer in their home nation is inspiring but for this to happen in China for a 20 year old is really special.”
 
“For HSBC he is proudly one of our own. Haotong was first inspired into the game as a youngster by attending our tournament, HSBC Champions in Sheshan and now he has the potential to inspire a new generation. He graduated through the ranks of the CGA-HSBC Junior Golf Program, a development program we started nine years ago with the ambition of supporting future champions. Today we have realised that ambition. We saw glimpses of his potential at WGC-HSBC Champions last year and now he’s advanced into the winner’s circle and we’re delighted for him. For Li and golf in China this is only the start. The CGA-HSBC Junior Golf Program offers a proven pathway to the very top of the game and I’ve no doubt with this victory many more will be inspired to make that journey.”

As Will Gray notes at GolfChannel.com, with this win Li likely vaults into the top place for one of China's male Olympic golf exemptions.

Nice setup:

A star in the making 🌟 #VolvoChinaOpen

A video posted by European Tour (@europeantour) on May 1, 2016 at 10:30am PDT

 

Full highlights from his win:

They're Back! China Says It's OK To Play Golf

Thanks to reader Tom for Tom Phillips' Guardian piece on the Communist party of China issuing new thoughts on golf via articles in party-controlled media.

Phillips is working off a translation of this story.

“Since it is only a sport, there is no right or wrong about playing golf,” an article in the Discipline Inspection and Supervision News, the official newspaper of China’s anti-corruption agency, declared.


The newspaper pointed to article 87 of the Communist party’s disciplinary regulations which deals with potential punishments for the illicit possession of golf membership cards.

“Can officials play golf while the nation steps up efforts to clamp down on corruption and promote austerity?” the China Daily asked. “The answer is yes - if they pay out of their own pockets.”

“Playing golf itself is not a wrongdoing,” the newspaper confirmed.

Just a few weeks ago a course that had been approved and deemed environmentally sound was destroyed in a bizarre show of force against golf.

Kosher China Golf Course Still Demolished In Anti-Golf Crusade

The course in question--Orient Shanghai--had been approved for creation, passed the Songjang EPA tests and even hosted the LPGA Tour.

Yet as a reminder that golf is symbolic pinata for the Chinese government, the course was demolished in dramatic fashion last week.

From an unbylined Golf Industry report:

Orient Shanghai, the long-time host venue of the Shanghai Classic on the China LPGA Tour, was constructed adjacent to the upper Huangpu river off the Dagang exit of the Shanghai-Hangzhou highway. Previously, temporary fish farms occupied the site that was prone to flooding in the rainy season.

While club officials declined to talk about the matter, the reason for its closing is that the Huangpu is Shanghai’s source of drinking water and golf is seen as a pollutant. The government wants to see farming on the land that the course occupied.

Even though it's been polluted by the Royal and Ancient?

But according to an environmental study conducted by the club, local farmers use 20 to 30 times more fertilizers and pesticides than Orient Shanghai in its course maintenance. The irony of the club’s closure is that it went through the full Environmental Protection Agency permitting process and passed every test required by the Songjiang district EPA. 

Golf in China...it sounded so good on paper, too.

Wentworth Row Heating Up: Members Threatening Legal Action

Storied Wentworth Club, host to the annual BMW Championship on the European Tour and once home to an H.S. Colt-designed course, has seen major changes announced by new Beijing-based owner Chanchai Ruayrungruang (bless you control C and V). But not since October have we heard where the fight might be headed.

After having brought in the Foreign Secretary to no avail, the old guard membership that new owner Reignwood wants to move out to be replaced by 800 or so mostly international members, has received a 15-page letter, reports The Guardian's Nazia Parveen (thanks reader Tom).

The letter claims the planned changes to the club’s membership would breach a legal trust agreement in place for 50 years, contravene consumer and equality laws, and possibly even break Chinese laws on joining golf clubs.

Wow. Invoking the Community Party ban on golf club membership. Digging deep!

Lawyers also argue that the proposed “exclusive membership” could be in breach of Chinese law. Campaigners have claimed that such practices are forbidden in China.

Deals Coming! Communists Ban China Golf Club Memberships

Looks like the grow the game intiatives may need to look beyond China, as reports say the Chinese Communist Party has banned all 88 million of its members from joining golf clubs.

Thanks to everyone who sent the unbylined BBC story on the party updating is "discipline rules," which also targeted things like extravagant eating and drinking and abuse of power. And golf club memberships.

The new rule on golf states that members are banned from "obtaining, holding or using membership cards for gyms, clubs, golf clubs, or various other types of consumer cards, or entering private clubs".

If caught, members could either receive a warning or be removed from the party, depending on the severity of the violation.

Strange Times: NY Times On China's Golf Crackdown

With Tiger Woods slated to announced his big Beijing design job on April 23rd, the recent stories out of China about golf crackdowns figure to make the wording of that announcement extra fun!

Thanks to all who sent Austin Ramzy's NY Times story on the crackdown, which leans quite a bit on the reporting and observations of Dan Washburn. (You can also listen to Dan on this episode of State of the Game.)

Dan Washburn, author of “The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream,” said the crackdown was not surprising given the game’s reputation in China as a capitalist pastime and the extent of Mr. Xi’s prolonged campaign against corruption, which has toppled senior party and military leaders.

“This is Xi Jinping’s China, and it’s clear he’s intent on making his mark,” Mr. Washburn said. “Everyone’s a potential target in this ongoing crackdown on corruption, and golf is a particularly easy and obvious one.”

Washburn penned this CNN piece during Masters week with more insights into this utterly bizarre situation that has the government shutting down courses and politicians, but also funding golf because of its place in the Olympic Games.

In Guangdong province, the birthplace of golf in modern China, an investigative team has been formed to crack down on officials who took part in any of nine golf-related activities. There's even a public hotline for reporting suspected golf violations.

Over the past decade, however, not much seemed like it could get in the way of golf's meteoric growth in China. While it's been illegal to build new golf courses in China since at least 2004, no other country has built more of them over the past decade -- not even close.

Beijing would say new construction is banned, while at the same time local governments would line their pockets with the proceeds from the boom. There didn't seem to be too many rules in all of this, but one was especially important: When building a golf course in China, don't call it a golf course. One massive project of note was known as "ecological restoration."

Washburn speaking in this embedded clip:

Tiger Getting $16.5 Million For Two China Design Projects?

That's what Josh Sens at golf.com says.

The funniest part? The developer, Pacific Links International, confirms and even produces a boilerplate quote from Woods. And Tiger's spokesman Glenn Greenspan? No comment.

Asked about the Beijing project, Tiger spokesman Glenn Greenspan said that Woods had nothing to announce at the moment.

But in a statement provided to Golf.com by Pacific Links, Woods is quoted as saying, “We strongly believe this course will stand the test of time and be one of the most prestigious courses in China, and even Asia.”

Pacific Links executives did not respond to questions about the financial terms of the deal.

It's still illegal to build a "golf course" in China where construction has been in full stop mode according to Dan Washburn (and others who, so maybe Team Tiger is just trying to avoid being seen as breaking the law?

WSJ: "Golf, as it’s now played in China, doesn’t have a promising future."

It'll come as a massive shock that the hyper-expensive, uber-gawdy, totally-unsustainable version of golf exported to China appears to be slowing down.

Andrew Browne, writing for the Wall Street Journal (thanks to JB and Bertie for sending), writes:

Just a few months ago, members of a newly opened Jack Nicklaus signature course in the Beijing suburbs woke up to discover the venue had been ordered shut amid a government audit of all of the city’s clubs. It was allowed to reopen after a few weeks, but only for members, not their guests. A nearby club didn’t get off so lightly: it had to plow up its immaculate greens and close permanently.

This isn’t a passing shower. Golf, as it’s now played in China, doesn’t have a promising future.

Browne cites Dan Washburn, guest on State of the Game and author of the best golf book of 2014, as his background for golf's history in modern China.

Washburn recently visited and offered this on his website:

But during my recent two weeks in China, I encountered more pessimism and uncertainty from those in the industry than ever before. Everyone quoted the rumor that up to 100 courses would soon be shut down, a process that perhaps got kickstarted with the closure of a handful of courses this summer. Beijing then, as it had a handful of times over the previous decade, reiterated its oft referenced but rarely enforced ban on golf course construction. It did so again just this week. Things do appear to be ratcheting up.

What to make of it? Who knows. Maybe this is truly the end of the boom. Maybe it’s just another bump in the road. Either way, it seems a good time to share with you a recent email I received from a China golf course industry veteran.

That email is worth checking out (many paragraphs). And as you might suspect, all of the reasons for the slowdown were predictable.