OneAsia chiefs vowed yesterday to make the sport more hip and fashionable, as an early bird caught the worm on the first day of the US$3 million Volvo China Open.
'We are looking for the next 'wow factor',' said new OneAsia secretary general Tenniel Chu, who is vice-chairman at Mission Hills Golf Club. 'Maybe we will bring in K-pop and Chinese pop stars and make the game more marketable and attractive.
'At Mission Hills we have experience in doing things that have never been done before,' he said, referring to their latest initiative, the World Celebrity Pro-Am, which will be played in Haikou in October.
Chu joined forces with OneAsia, set up four years ago by Chinese, Korean and Australian golfing bodies, as he believed they had the best platform to grow the game in the region.
'OneAsia is the most lucrative tour in the Asia-Pacific, with 14 tournaments and purses of over US$1 million,' Chu said. 'We have a tremendous platform from which to grow the game and attract sponsors.
'At the moment we co-sanction events, like this week's Volvo China Open, with the European Tour, but one day I'm sure we will have players knocking on our door from all around the world.'
The rival Asian Tour, which has fought a bitter battle with OneAsia for control of the game, has long accused the latter of stealing its tournaments and not creating any new opportunities for players.
But OneAsia's alliance with Mission Hills opens up the Chu family's vast resources in Shenzhen-Guangdong (12 courses), and Haikou (10 courses) and Chu said they would be more than willing to stage 'at least' one new event.
'We are capable of putting something forward very quickly,' he said.
OneAsia commissioner and chairman Sang Chun said he was excited to have a 'creative mind' like Chu's helping him as they were in the entertainment business and had a reach of 400 million households. He also reiterated there was no conflict with the Asian Tour as OneAsia was a different platform, and he was optimistic they would fulfill their promise of 14 tournaments this year.
Meanwhile, rookie Englishman Matthew Baldwin cashed in on his 6.45am start yesterday to seize the first-round lead at the national open at Binhai Lake Golf Club.
The 26-year-old Challenge Tour graduate shot a seven-under 65 in friendly conditions to take a one-shot lead over Joost Luiten (Netherlands), Gary Boyd (England), Scott Strange (Australia), Fredrik Andersson Hed (Sweden), Jean-Baptiste Gonnet (France) and Jbe Kruger (South Africa).
'The wind was not as strong and the pins were in generous places,' Baldwin said. 'I just tried to keep everything simple. It turned out to be one of those days where there were a lot of chances and I managed to take a few of them.'
Tournament drawcards Peter Hanson (Sweden) and Ian Poulter (England) failed to set the course alight and settled for one-under 71s.
China's 'elder statesman', Zhang Lianwei (champion in 2003), rolled back the years with a three-under 69 to be the leading local player along with Wu Ashun, Fu Tai and Wu Weihuang.
Thirteen-year-old Guan Tianlang, the youngest player to qualify for a European Tour event, struggled to a five-over 77 and will have to shoot low today to make the cut.