Orient Masters underlines era of China boom

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 12:00am

China, which has escaped the worst of the Asian economic meltdown and continues to embrace the once-banned sport of golf, will stage two high-profile tournaments in April.

Professional golf in the world's most populous country enters a new stage of development next week when the US$200,000 Orient Masters is played at Orient Golf and Country Club in Xiamen.

The 72-hole strokeplay tournament, to be held from April 2-5, is a joint-sanctioned event between the newly formed China PGA Tour and the Asian PGA's Omega Tour.

For the past three seasons, the China Golf Association (CGA) and Hong Kong-based promoter Richtone Worldwide Ltd have worked together to stage the Volvo China Tour - a mini-circuit of four 36-hole events.

This year, the CGA and Richtone took the decision to form the China PGA Tour, focus on staging standard 72-hole contests and work closely with the established Omega Tour.

The Orient Masters, to be launched today at a press conference in Xiamen, represents the first of these. The second, the Volvo China Open - also a joint-sanctioned event with the Omega Tour - will be played from April 16 to 19 in Shanghai.

'In the week in between these two big tournaments we will stage a 36-hole pro-am tournament - the Trans Strait Invitational - at Trans Strait Golf Club in Fuzhou,' said Aylwin Tai, managing director of Richtone Worldwide Ltd.

'These three events will begin the year for the China PGA Tour while we are currently planning several other big events for later in the season.' This year marks the first time that the Omega Tour will stage more than one tournament in China. Previously, the Tour had visited the mainland only for the Volvo China Open, but with the game of golf in China continuing to grow faster than any other country in Asia, the Asian PGA is happy to increase its links with the country.

Golf was labelled a 'decadent Western pastime' in China during the Cultural Revolution and the first modern golf course was established just 14 years ago.

The Orient Masters and Volvo China Open represent the third and fourth stops on the 1998 Omega Tour.