In the Year of the Rabbit, how appropriate that the Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA) finally appear to be pulling some junior rabbits out of the hat. Teenager Wong Woon-man may not have won the 1999 Hong Kong Closed Amateur Championship, but his equal fourth-placed finish at Fanling last week came as a timely shot in the arm for the SAR's junior development programme. Now aged 18, the thickset Wong was among the original group of New Territories youngsters inducted into the HKGA's programme that was launched in 1992. Progress, as Alan Liu Wai-yin acknowledges, has been steady rather than spectacular. 'It's not been easy,' confesses Liu, the HKGA's director for junior golf. The biggest difficulty that Liu has faced, and continues to do so, is the lack of facilities. More specifically, the inability to secure tee-times for his proteges. Currently, Liu has 50 local boys and girls in his programme. They are aged between nine and 16. All live within close proximity to Tuen Mun and Yuen Long and have been recruited from local schools. In addition to Wong and Christopher Tsui, he also singles out 14-year-old Sun Hiu-fung and Eva Yoe, one year her junior, as exceptional prospects. 'We have many talented kids and a lot of others who want to join our programme,' said Liu, who supervises regular coaching sessions at driving ranges. However, no matter how many hundreds of range balls they thrash off the mats, there's no substitute for getting the youngsters on to courses, says Liu. Problem is that Hong Kong's clubs are able only to offer a limited number of starting slots due to the demand of their respective members. Although the situation has improved from five years ago, it's nowhere near the level that Liu would like to see it. Indeed, so sparse are the opportunities for him to get his juniors on to Hong Kong courses that Liu has had to look across the border. Starting last December, Liu instigated a monthly 'friendship tournament' between juniors from the HKGA and the Shenzhen Golf Association. With some justification, Liu believes the results from the Closed Championship over the Hong Kong Golf Club's New Course signal a breakthrough for Hong Kong amateur golf on two fronts. Firstly, six of the top-11 positions were filled by Hong Kong-born Chinese, and secondly seven of the leading 11 are under the age of 30. As well as Wong, falling into both of those categories were Wilson Choy, the champion with a four-round aggregate of 292, Tang Shing-chi, whose three-under 67 in the third round was the best return of the tournament, and Tsui. Additional encouragement came from the fact that Wong, Tsui and Roderick Staunton (seventh) and George Moore (joint eighth) are all still eligible for junior tournaments. 'The results were very pleasing,' said Liu, who thinks the above quartet are capable of going on to form the nucleus of teams that will represent Hong Kong in international competition in the new millennium. Although Choy's triumph, which assured him the President's Medal as the winner of the amateur Order of Merit for 1998-99, has guaranteed him a spot on the Hong Kong team for this year's Southeast Asian Team Championship for the Putra Cup and the Asia-Pacific Team Championship for the Nomura Cup, Liu is already looking further down the line. His thoughts are focused especially on the 2002 Asian Games where he hopes the SAR will take part in both the men's and women's sections. Given that the HKGA's application to send teams to December's Bangkok Asia Games was rejected on the grounds that Hong Kong would not be competitive, succeeding in merely ensuring that the SAR are in golf's starting lineup in Pusan would be a victory in itself.