New China pro tour to one day rival Japan and US, says Zhang
'We anticipate next year we'll have six to eight events with even bigger purses'
A professional tour is to be established in China - one that could rival the Japanese Tour within five years, says mainland number one Zhang Lianwei.
The tour will have up to five tournaments this year with purses of US$100,000 each. They will be played at clubs across the mainland.
Li Yong, the deputy secretary of the China Golf Association, said it had been conducting research for the past two years with the aim of establishing the tour. An official announcement would be made next month revealing which courses would be used, and also the names of sponsors.
'We are now in a position to launch the tour as the marketing opportunities in China are very healthy, and also because our professional golfers have demanded a tour should be set up,' Li said from his Beijing office. 'We plan to grow the tour step by step and we anticipate that next year we'll have at least six to eight events with even bigger purses.'
Zhang said he expected the tour would rival the Japan Tour within three to five years and, if successful, the tour could grow rapidly over the following 10 to 15 years to become as popular and as lucrative as the US PGA Tour. 'China is now a prosperous country and a manufacturing powerhouse, which means there is a lot of opportunity for sponsorship of sporting events,' said Zhang.
'We have around 200 golf courses across the country, many of which have been built to international championship standards, so we have the necessary facilities to support the tour.'
Asian Tour chief executive Louis Martin said that while the infrastructure might be in China in terms of courses and hotels to accommodate players, officials and fans, what was lacking was a structured amateur tour through which young Chinese players could cut their teeth on tournament play.
'China has tremendous prospects if everything is mapped out strategically,' said Martin. 'Sponsorship-wise there is a huge market to develop tournaments, but China's main aim would be to look at ways to create a bigger pool of talented players, beginning with the amateur ranks.'
Li said there were now more than 60 tournament pros and around 100 teaching pros in China, so it would not be difficult to compile a field to compete for the prize money. He also added that although the association would run the tour they would almost certainly need the assistance of an international event management organisation to help stage the events.
Most of the key details are being kept under wraps until an official announcement is made next month. However, industry sources have long said it is just a matter of time before an organised pro tour is set up in China.
China has staged an increasing number of high-profile sporting events in recent years from Formula One to ATP tennis finals. Professional golf has also seen a rise in the number tournaments played and just last month two co-sanctioned European Tour events were held in Beijing and Shanghai.
Several top-10 players jetted in for the Johnnie Walker Classic in Beijing, including world number three Ernie Els, Spain's Sergio Garcia and eventual winner Adam Scott of Australia.
One week later Els went on to win the BMW Asia Open in Shanghai. Li added that each year the association staged a qualifying school for tournament professionals and as more teaching pros made the grade, a domestic tour would be needed.