Young athletes help fuel golf's growth in China


Feng Shanshan of China plays during the Cambia Portland Classic at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Oregon, August 30, 2018. (Photo: VCG)

Golf may look like an easy game, but it's a sport that, along with strength, focus, and strategy, requires years of disciplined training to master. And while China still lags far behind its Western counterparts in developing a full-fledged golf industry, the sport has managed to find some enthusiastic devotees in the country.

Lai Yiyan practices up to five times a week. She is only 9 years old, but already, she's won more tournaments that she can count. Lai Yiyan said, "When I grow up I'd like to become a professional golfer."

Many of these boys and girls, aged between six and ten, practice every day. Charles Wu, general manager of a golf club in China, says the story of golf's transformation across the nation, from relative obscurity to a sport-on-the-rise, is nothing short of miraculous.

"These young people are often the last ones training out on the course every evening. Normally, a six-year-old will go to bed at about 8:30 or 9:00 pm. But they don't. They go out to play golf until 11:00 pm. For a Westerner that's a Chinese 'miracle' because you can't let your child keep playing golf until 11 pm and not sleep. Chinese kids can do this, and this is a 'miracle', because they are both willing and made to be willing to accept this kind of education. That's what is 'miraculous'," said Wu.

Looking on approvingly are the children's parents. For many of them, golf was unheard of until the turn-of-the-millennium. Zong Jinyong, grandmother of Lai Yiyan, said that when she was young she didn't know what golf was. She did not hear about it until 2002.

The first golf course and golf team on the Chinese mainland were established in the mid-1980s in south China's Guangdong province. Since then, the country's golf scene has managed to overcome its fair share of obstacles, before finally breaking out as a sport. Last September, the country founded its national golf team for the Olympics. Just two months later, Feng Shanshan became China's first player to become a golf world number one. And the number of Chinese players on the professional men's and women's tours is on the rise. Official data shows the number of registered young golfers has also skyrocketed in recent years, from only 400 in 2013 to over 3,400 by last year.

With each of these breakthroughs and developments, the sport has won itself more players and more fans. And as more people in China become familiar with golf, its future in the country is likely to remain on the fairway and out of the rough.