New Straits Times


China’s young driving golf boom


LAI Runci practises every day and looks very much the golfer as she pings the ball effortless­ly off the tee. She is aged six. Lai Yiyan has won so many tournament­s that she has lost count. She is nine.

The two girls — who are not related — represent China’s growing army of child golfers and the country’s budding interest in a game that was banned under Mao Zedong because it was “for millionair­es.”

The sport was allowed to breathe again in the 1980s, but under current President Xi Jinping scrutiny has increased with authoritie­s closing scores of golf courses in recent years after they became synonymous with corrupt officials and extravagan­t lifestyles.

None of that appeared to matter when a gaggle of snazzily dressed boys and girls aged between six and 10 competed at Guangzhou’s Dragon Lake Golf Club in southern Guangdong, a province that considers itself the home of golf in China.

As their parents and grandparen­ts sipped tea or lattes in the Spanish-themed clubhouse and discussed how to get into China’s top universiti­es, the children out on the 18-hole course displayed techniques that profession­als would not be ashamed of.

Yiyan, who also uses the name Yvonne, soared to victory in her category, negotiatin­g nine holes in 42 shots to win by a handsome eight strokes.

Hidden beneath a red cap and sun glasses, Yiyan practises up to five times a week.

“When I grow up I’d like to become a profession­al golfer,” said Yiyan, who with her confidence, ability and golf attire already has the air of a star.

The China Golf Associatio­n had just 400 registered junior golfers in 2013, but that exploded to 35,000 by the end of last year and the organisati­on expects 100,000 within five years.

There are a growing number of Chinese on the profession­al men’s and women’s tours, and last year Feng Shanshan became the first player from her country to become a golf world number one.

Charles Wu, general manager of Dragon Lake Golf Club, which opened in 2004 to adult and junior players, treads carefully in attempting to explain golf’s ambiguous status in China, emphasisin­g that it is not about hobnobbing among the elite.

Wu appreciate­s that pushing a child as young as six to play golf every day is unpalatabl­e to many — even if little Runci, who like many her age is exteremly shy, intimates that she enjoys it.

Wu does question whether someone as young as Runci should be out on the golf course practising every day.

“Normally a six-year-old will go to bed about 8:30-9pm, but they don’t, they go out to play golf until 11pm,” he says.

“For a Westerner that is a Chinese ‘miracle’ because you can’t let your child keep playing golf until 11pm and not sleep.

“Chinese kids can do this because they are both willing and made to be willing to accept this kind of education.”

The last word should rightly go to Runci — it would, if she was not so quiet.

Asked if she has any other hobbies aside from golf, she shakes her head.

She is upset that — with her father looking on — she came only second of four in her group.

Asked what she wants to be when she grows up, a woman’s voice pipes up in the background.

“Be a golf star like Tiger Woods.”

 ?? AFP PIC ?? Lai Runci tees off during a children’s tournament on Sept 23 at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou.
AFP PIC Lai Runci tees off during a children’s tournament on Sept 23 at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou.

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