Huge boost for next Open

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 November, 2003, 12:00am

The China Open will become a US$1 million event next year, double the amount on offer for this week's tournament, organisers announced yesterday.

'Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the Volvo China Open so the timing is perfect to make it a US$1 million event,' said Mel Pyatt, Volvo's head of sponsorship. 'China's economy has continued to surge forward and, along with it, golf is also growing rapidly in popularity.

'We've seen this surge reflected in much more interest in the Open in the past two years and we can also see that some very talented Chinese players are starting to emerge.

'By boosting overall prize money to US$1 million, with the winner receiving US$180,000, Chinese golf will have an Open championship to be proud of and we are confident it will provide the motivation needed for a lot of top-class homegrown golfing talent to break through at a higher level.'

The China Open started in 1995 at Beijing International Golf Club with a prize fund of US$400,000. It was played three times at the Beijing club, then once at Shanghai SunIsland Golf Club before moving to Silport Golf Club four years ago.

'It is wonderful news for golf in China,' said Alistair Polson, executive director of promoters Richtone Worldwide Limited. 'The China Open is definitely the one on the fast track. Most of the national Opens around Asia have been going for 30 years or longer and only one offers over US$1 million,' he said.

The tournament starts at Silport tomorrow with China's hopes of a first homegrown winner at an all-time high.

China number one Zhang Lianwei has lifted his game to a new level, having beaten Nick Price in a memorable shootout at the 2002 Macau Open and adding another prize scalp in Ernie Els at the Singapore Masters.

Zhang, who finished fourth behind Australian David Gleeson at Silport last year, has continued to make a name for himself on the Japanese Tour. 'I was very happy to shoot nine-under and finish fourth last year,' Zhang said. 'That was my best result since I finished third in 1995. Hopefully, I can improve on that this year.'

Liang Wenchong, who is trying to follow Zhang on to the Japan Tour, is keen to emerge from his mentor's shadow this week. And among the new crop of Chinese talent is 23-year-old Li Chao, who shot to prominence at last month's Sanya Open when he carded a final-round 65.

'Zhang is a world-class player and so he always gets the media attention,' said Polson. 'But there are players like Li Chao who are starting to produce good results. The next five years should see a large group of new exciting players emerge.'