The Asian PGA Tour resumes after its summer break this week with the prospects of Hong Kong finding its first tournament winner no nearer. The SAR's three tour regulars this season, Derek Fung, 34, Dominique Boulet, 38, and James Stewart 28, languish at the foot of this year's Order of Merit and would need a major reversal of fortunes to challenge at the US$300,000 Mercuries Masters at the Taiwan Golf and Country Club. It is now seven years since the territory's best result on the APGA Tour, when Boulet tied for third place in the Hong Kong Open, and four years since one of the threesome broke into the top 60. Hong Kong has, however, had a resident success. Kyi Hla Han of Myanmar won the Order of Merit on the Asian Tour in 1999, becoming the first player to net US$200,000 in a single season on the circuit, but he says his success was despite being in Hong Kong, not because of it. 'The golf boom here is very young,' he points out. 'When I moved here in 1993, no one knew what golf was. There were no public driving ranges. The ranges only appeared four or five years ago. It was frustrating. Basically I did all my practice outside Hong Kong.' Historically the 114-year-old members-only Hong Kong Golf Club (HKGC) at Fanling has carried the brunt of the SAR's development work, producing its own talent and assisting the Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA) youth programmes by providing significant access to its three courses and practice facilities. 'There's always been a strong development programme here,' explains head professional Ian Roberts. 'We give two hours of coaching to our juniors every Saturday and Sunday and during the week we give access to the schools, and the members of the Golf Association's elite programme. It's been done historically, and as the game has grown the help we've given to juniors has grown.' However, two of the best recent Fanling products have both opted out of the tournament scene. Scott Rowe, a Canadian-US citizen who finished seventh in the APGA Order of Merit in 1999, has since quit the pro ranks, while former world junior champion Roderick Staunton, who went on to the University of Southern California, is now completing his studies in Scotland and is likely to remain amateur. Already at a disadvantage compared to the rest of Asia because of its small population, the exclusive nature of the game has further reduced the potential talent pool. 'The problem is the facilities aren't that convenient. It isn't made for training and it's hard for juniors to get easy access,' says Han. 'Everything's so organised here - you have to book or make an appointment. When I was a kid I just stayed all day on the golf course. 'Nowadays in Europe and the US you have to be talented and good at eight or 10 years old. By the time they're 12 or 13, boys are shooting par or better, and then they have to be brought up another notch. By the time they're 18 or 20 they have to be ready to get professional experience. The HKGA is doing a lot, but it takes time for that to develop. Here they're starting too late. It needs that heavy-duty programme from the age of eight or 10.' Hong Kong is only gradually developing the kind of development programmes needed to catch the talent early enough. Kau Sai Chau has been increasing the number of junior lessons taught by around 1,000 each year and expects to improve on 2002's figure of 7,000 at a similar rate. Roberts continues to work with 75 to 100 of the HKGC's own juniors, and the HKGC continues to provide facilities to a similar number of outsiders. American Brad Schadewitz, soon to be officially named the HKGA's national junior coach, has for the past two years been working with 60 of the territory's brightest prospects between the age of six and 17. 'You'll see better players out of Hong Kong. They're getting better coaching and more access,' Schadewitz insists. 'My kids have improved dramatically over the past two years. Hopefully seeing more and more kids we'll find the one who can win on the APGA Tour and maybe take it to the PGA Tour.' That special talent may be at least 10 years away, assuming that one of the current crop, such as the seven year-old Tiger Lee, who Schadewitz describes as the most talented player at that age he has seen, come through. But even if these youngsters do fulfil their early potential, there is one issue that most agrees could hamper the prospects of Hong Kong's future stars - a shortage of competitions. 'We lack the forum of tournaments, which are a necessary evil,' says Mark Reeves, Kau Sai Chau's director of golf. 'We don't want our kids focusing on winning or losing, but they have to be able to measure their performance. We have eight courses in Hong Kong. We should be running age-group competitions through the summer holidays with tournaments at each one.' The problem doesn't just affect the junior golfers. Those that take the step up to amateur international golf have also found the opportunities too limited, which is why many of Hong Kong's Cantonese stars have wound their way into the professional ranks and then into teaching, such as Wilson Choy and the Tang family - Peter, Alex and his son Chris. 'Representing Hong Kong as an amateur we played an average of one tournament a month,' explains James Stewart, who like Fung and Boulet ended up taking the American collegiate route via a golf scholarship. 'Hong Kong does a good job of sending players around Asia - we always entered the Malaysian, Taiwanese, Thai and Chinese Amateur Opens - but I'd look at getting them into more countries like Australia and Japan, into more different environments. 'Australia and Japan, especially Australia, have the better amateur tournaments. There are talented players in Hong Kong, but they need the experience, which of course needs more money.' Some also argue that the various steps that a 10-year-old might take through Hong Kong's golf system are not clearly defined and well-organised enough. 'I think in Hong Kong we don't have the avenues well structured. There's not a good feed from juniors through to the Tour,' says Reeves. 'We need to group these things together, create a brains trust, and get people working together.' Stewart chose the American route because of the level of competition he would face and the free education. 'By the time I left I was ranked in the top 25 in the country.' When Hong Kong does produce its next potential star, at least he or she won't be caught in the dilemma that plagues other sports in the SAR - the reluctance of parents to allow their offspring to choose sport ahead of further education.