Fans meet their heroes and get into the swing of things at Fanling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2007, 12:00am

Hundreds of Hong Kong golf fans stood 10-deep and breathless at the 18th to watch their heroes, KJ Choi and Liang Wenchong, sink their last putts of the day, religiously obeying the 'quiet' cards held up by the stewards.

All, that is, except the wine pourers manning the Santama 'Official Wine' tent, which backed onto the packed gallery.

As the crowds soaked up the tense atmosphere on the Hong Kong Golf Club's spell-binding course in a sizzling silence, it appeared the wine staff had been secretly soaking up the Sauvignon Blanc at the advertised 'special HK$20 a glass'.

Their shrill cackles and loose tongues broke the golden rule of golf courses with the cacophony pouring out on to the green.

Their chatter angered some spectators into loud issues of 'Ssshhhh!' at the canvas. Then one started to beat the side of the tent to demand silence.

With vintage embarrassment now emitting from the wine tent, South Korean champ Choi lined up with putter in hand . . . yet his ball ran out of steam an inch from its intended destination.

'Aiiyaaa!' yelped the crowd in unison, some slapping their sunburnt foreheads.

Then Chinese stalwart Liang eyed his shot - and sunk it with aplomb, sparking a cheer so loud that it caused an eye or two to open among the members dozing on leather lounges in the colonial era clubhouse men's quiet room.

Among those fans queuing to have their baseball caps signed by the Asian golfers at the media tent, were technology students Heidi Hu, 21, and Lisa Hung 20, both from Kowloon.

Both are new to golf and are besotted by Choi and Liang.

'I've only ever played at the driving range. But this is a great experience to watch these players. And I never knew Hong Kong had such lovely green spaces. I'd love to play here,' said Hu.

On graduation, with a well-paid job and a bit more practice on her swing, such an ambition could become a reality for Hu and others like her at this once (and some might argue 'still') bastion of male chauvinism and colonial exclusivity.

What the Hong Kong Open has afforded the public over the past 48 years is a rare peep inside this unique club and beautiful course.

And such tense days on the leaderboard make for a great distraction among club members, who all too easily mistake non-members for perhaps a former captain.

Ideal then, with all eyes on Robert Karlsson and Co, for a nosy visitor to tour the trophy, card, billiards, club and men's quiet room - adorned with black and white photographs of former presidents and captains - unattended; a prime time to seek a glimpse at history - long before corporate hospitality tents and virtual golf ranges, for evidence of a world without PC-ism.

The Royal Hong Kong Golf Club was formed in 1889 and the existing clubhouse was built in the style of all British empire clubhouses found in the pink bits of old globes.

And though women and locals can now play at this prestigious club, the Royal nomenclature that was dropped after the 1997 handover still adorns one highly polished brass sign.

It's a small token for reminiscing members fond of glory days gone by when the riff-raff and womenfolk were barred, and men spoke men talk accompanied only by pipe tobacco and a whisky soda. Today, women's toilets are placed next to the card room, and according to Canadian golf fan, Ashley Anholt, 23, who was following compatriot Mike Weir on day three, the women's changing rooms 'are fantastic'.

And pipes would had fallen out of mouths and woods out of hands at the sight of fellow Canadian Bruce Hoag, who was walking 'this beautiful course' wearing a silly umbrella hat adorned with Maple Leafs.

Out by the 18th, six-year-old Toby Chan was feeling somewhat forlorn because his favourite player, England's Luke Donald, was absent from the tournament. No matter. His dad, Pierre, had brought his son along to back Choi and Liang, and Toby - who has played golf for two years - proudly clutched a signed hat by Choi.

Does Toby also like the England football team, whose European championship fate was about to be sealed in a few hours?

'Nah, I just like golf,' said Toby.

No doubt the black and white photo portraits in the clubhouse of presidents past would growl in agreement.