Taking the game to the masses 'a massive challenge' in China
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The game of golf has lost its soul and has been overtaken by showmanship, says architect and planner Brian Curley.
And the American says a change of mentality is needed before China can take the game to the masses and produce champions.
'Somewhere along the line we have lost sight of the soul of the game. Where you play, on whose course you play and who is the architect have become more important than the game itself,' says Curley, who has more than 30 years in the industry and is an expert on the game's development in China. 'When we grew up we didn't think about the golf course. We played on a track that barely resembled today's courses. Now the facility has overshadowed the game.
'What's happened with China is boom, boom. Everyone wants a big extravaganza. There is a stigma associated with something that isn't at the upper, upper end. We need to change that mentality. A lot of courses and communities would be better served if we break from that.'
That means building basic nine-hole courses and practice facilities but it will need the government's help in freeing up land. 'One of the things the industry is crying out for is change, change, change. It's a matter of introducing the game and you don't need to take over huge expanses of land to do that.
'The 18-hole course is a bit of an anomaly now. You get multiple courses,' he said.
Curley built Mission Hills' two 'extravaganzas' - in Shenzhen/Dongguan and at Haikou. But he said the 10-course Hainan development has two par-three courses and three of the other courses are relatively short par-70s and not over the top, consuming less land and resources to keep them running.
'We have to build more practice facilities and get the point across that you don't have to build over-the-top courses to get people excited about golf. I still love to see kids hitting a ball around in dirt fields with makeshift clubs into a tin cup. Ultimately that is what the game is about.'
Curley said his company had already donated its services to help build a 'very affordable' course in Yunnan province and knew the rest of the industry would get behind it. 'That is in the pipeline,' he said, despite the 'ban' on building new courses. 'We have to create a game for the masses and for that to happen it will need help from the government to make land available.'
The problem is the game is still being picked up by '45-year-old company chairmen' and their children, he says.
'They see it as a tool to make their way in business. It's different in the Western world now where there is a very deliberate and obvious divide between the sport and business. It didn't used to be that way. But what's happened in the US is you can't have cell phones, you can't have briefcases - there are so many restrictions now.
'In China and Asia it's entirely different. There is an absolute tie, they blend, they are one and same. You don't get weekend golfers, you get weekday golfers. They play all the time because that is their office - that is how they entertain and create relationships. I know golfers who play 250 times a year - they are businessmen.'
And that is where China's 'Tiger Woods' will likely come from - the fortunate son of a wealthy businessman sent to learn the game in the United States - unless a caddie gets extremely lucky.
FACTS AND FIGURES
1: Mission Hills Haikou falls outside the ban on golf course construction because the island is a special economic zone with grand designs to become the world's leading tourism destination by 2020
2: The development boasts 10 courses built on a lava rock field, with the volcano a natural feature. 'It's hard to imagine this little thing caused so much havoc and spewed out so much lava,' architect Brian Curley says
3: Already boasting a 518-room hotel, an outdoor theme park and mineral-rich natural springs, the resort will soon have a Ritz-Carlton and a Renaissance hotel, along with a 'Lan Kwai Fong'
4: It employs - directly or indirectly - more than 25,000 people, says chairman Ken Chu, with up to 15,000 locals being give a future as caddies and greenskeepers or in the service industry
5: It hosted the celebrity pro-am Mission Hills Star Trophy last year and is now home of the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, which was played for three years at Mission Hills's Shenzhen/Dongguan complex before going biennial in 2009