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Golf is here to stay in China

Shanghai ' in 1985 the European tour staged 27 tournaments, 12 of which were played in Britain and Ireland with just one event, the Tunisian Open, outside mainland Europe. Twenty years on and its schedule is barely recognisable. As the world has shrunk, so the tour has grown, visiting such far-flung destinations as the Middle East, South Africa and, most surprisingly, China.

It would have been impossible to predict in 1985 that China would start to embrace so wholeheartedly what it would then have regarded as the most bourgeois of sports. But as the economic shackles loosen and the country adopts an increasingly open-door policy towards the rest of the world, so golf is beginning to establish a foothold; or, at least, tournament golf is.

Which is why, by the first week of December, there would have been a barely believable eight tournaments played here in the past 13 months, under the joint auspices of the European and Asian tours. No doubt the sponsors and organisers will argue that they are bringing the game to a new and massive audience, but there can be little doubt that for now it is a game for the elite. This is not, yet, one for the masses.

The past week witnessed the inaugural HSBC Champions tournament at the recently opened Sheshan International Golf Club. As with the likes of BMW, Volvo and Johnnie Walker, all of whom have put their names to events here, the bank considers the game to be the perfect vehicle for promoting itself and likes the feel of exclusivity that accompanies it.

HSBC realised that the best way to make an impact was to get Tiger Woods to play. So, after agreeing to back the Tiger Woods Foundation ' a charitable organisation for children ' and no doubt paying an appearance fee that would have allowed him to buy one of the $2 million “Tuscan-style” houses bordering the course, the corporation got its man.

It was quite a coup and topped off a good field that included Vijai Singh, Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and Michael Campbell, among others. As a result, the galleries were pretty large. That virtually all of those who came through the gates were Tiger hunters, meant that virtually all of them followed just one grouping throughout the week. It poses the question: how many would have turned up if Woods had not been here'

Still, it would seem that golf is in China for the long term. Sponsors and tour officials cannot get quite enough of China. Where it eventually leads, who knows' But it should be an interesting journey. THE TIMES, LONDON

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