It was 16 years ago that Arnold Palmer set foot in China. The purpose of that pioneering trip was to check out progress at the Zhongshan site where the first modern-day mainland golf course was taking shape. Given Palmer's status as the man who, more than any other individual, was responsible for globally popularising the game, it was entirely appropriate that he should have been chosen for the task of re-introducing golf to the world's most populous country. Yet in the wake of the 1984 opening of the Palmer Course at Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club, golf was still viewed with deep suspicion by mainland authorities whose primary motive in approving planning permission for the project which received worldwide media exposure was as a way to bring in foreign currency. Now, of course, golf in China has moved forward considerably. Not yet to the point where it's a sport for the masses. No longer, though, is it deemed a 'prime example of Western decadence'. Today, with more than 80 courses dotted around the country and an indigenous golfing population in excess of 20,000, increasing at a rate of 25 per cent per annum, golf is being embraced by leading officials who have described it as 'a healthy and suitable pastime for Chinese people'. And thanks to his association with Chung Shan, the name of Arnold Daniel Palmer will forever be inextricably linked to the development of golf in China. That the poignant nature of his 1983 visit remains so vividly imprinted on his mind tells you much about Palmer's character. It also reflects the genuine love of the game and desire to see it grow of a man who celebrated his 70th birthday last Saturday. Although his swashbuckling on-course exploits were extensively reported in the region's print media, Asian galleries had precious few opportunities to witness at first-hand Palmer in his prime. In a rare appearance in the region in 1964, however, Arnie's Army of Hong Kong admirers lined the fairways in their thousands to watch him take on Taiwan's Lu Liang-huan in an exhibition match at Fanling. They were not to be disappointed as Palmer lived up to his reputation in compiling a 68 thanks largely to some remarkable chipping and putting. For his part, Lu played immaculately in shooting a 70 during which he hit every green in regulation. Veteran Hong Kong Golf Club members still talk with awe about Palmer's performance that day and the way he endeared himself to all with whom he came into contact. In contrast, his Chung Shan adventure was largely without fanfare. He may have been a hero to millions around the world, but in China he was not known at all. For Palmer, so used to being mobbed wherever he went and spending hours signing autographs, it was actually a refreshing change. Although his China stopover lasted barely 24 hours, there are plenty of priceless recollections, including the fact that at least one hole had been built back-to-front and that the irrigation system had inadvertently been laid above ground. Asked recently about the wider implications of his ground-breaking China adventure, Palmer said: 'It was like coming to North America and having no golf courses. The possibilities seemed endless. It was also an opportunity to set a standard for future golf courses to be judged by. 'Chung Shan is a great milestone in the history of our company. It's one of those bridges that bring people and cultures closer together. Everyone present that day was very moved by the experience.' Discovery Bay Golf Club will once more host the Sogo Pairs tournament next month. The event is open to male amateur golfers resident in Hong Kong or Macau who hold a valid handicap of 21.9 or lower with the Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA) or the club at which they are a member. Entry fee per pair for the tournament over the Lantau Island club's Diamond-Ruby layout is HK$600. Forms are available from the HKGA (phone 2522-8804). Entries close on September 30.