SHANGHAI (AFP) – China has been hailed as “the unstoppable force” in golf as the world’s best players compete in Shanghai for the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
The tournament known as “Asia’s Major” teed off its 10th anniversary edition Thursday with 40 of the world’s top 50 players present for the second year in succession.
Back in 2005 the inaugural HSBC Champions was a European Tour event with a healthy $5 million purse that attracted 13 of the world’s top 50 players.
Today it is the largest tournament in the world outside the US and the British Open.
“The future of golf is here,” HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events Giles Morgan told AFP this week at Sheshan International Golf Club on the western outskirts of Shanghai, a seething metropolis that has grown rapidly to boast a population of 24 million people.
“There is an unstoppable force in China and golf needs to invest in it.”
The HSBC Champions became a World Golf Championships (WGC) event in 2009 and since has been jointly-sanctioned by all the major tours and now boasts a whopping $8.5 million prize fund.
China’s growth has mirrored that of the game: in 2005 there were just 170 courses in the world’s most populous country. Now there are more than 600 with hundreds more currently under construction.
“This tournament has been a catalyst for growth of the sport in China. And its strength is there to see,” said Morgan.
“China is quite an unstoppable force in world golf particularly when you look at where the sport is going.”
Morgan says it is the growing emergence of the middle classes in Asia that is fuelling the appetite for golf.
“There’s a revolution that’s been going on in golf for the last seven or eight years,” Morgan said. “Middle class emergence is where golf has traditionally grown.
“Golf really kickstarted in Britain at the time of the Industrial Revolution. And in the 20th Century it was about American middle class growth.
“By 2020 it’s predicted that 42 per cent of the world’s middle class will be in Asia – and therefore golf will grow,” Morgan said.
“It’s very exciting because the commercial landscape for the sport almost under our noses has changed massively.
“It’s that pace of change which is so astonishing when you look at this golf tournament. The HSBC Champions is now the ninth biggest golf tournament in the world – and after only nine years that is an amazing accomplishment for the sport.”
World number five Henrik Stenson echoed Morgan’s comments. “I was here in 2005 and at most of the HSBC Champions since and as this golf course has changed and matured so has this event,” the Swede told AFP.