The Communist Party is relaxing its crackdown on golf – cast out in 2015 after being considered a tool to tempt officials into corruption – and will encourage kids to take up the game, says the US PGA Tour’s leading official in China.
Greg Carlson says the vibe is now positive and Feng Shanshan’s performance at the Rio Olympics, where she won a bronze medal, has helped put the sport back in a positive light.
“There is a report – that hasn’t been made public yet – that speaks to golf in China and there are positive things,” said Carlson, the executive director of the PGA Tour China Series.
“I do think it’s relaxing … this year I get a different vibe.
“From the government perspective, golf being in the Olympics and China winning a bronze was very important.
“Yes, they have closed some courses and there has been a lot of confusion but I feel they are loosening up in the crackdown.”
President Xi Jinping turned the game upside down in 2015 when he ordered nearly 90 million party members not to swing a club for fear of succumbing to temptation, like “fine liquor, tobacco, fancy cars and mansions”.
More than 60 of the 600-odd courses were closed in the purge, but Carlson believes the worst is behind them, that golf is now a recognised sport and there are initiatives to encourage kids to pick up the game at the grassroots.
“What China is grappling with right now is how they can open it up to the masses and make the game affordable and playable,” says Beijing-based Carlson.
Working with the China Golf Association (CGA) and taking the cue from that government body, the PGA Tour has ridden out the storm and has even expanded into Hong Kong with the Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club to stage a series leg in November, bringing the number of tournaments to 13.
“We have a very good relationship with the CGA and the partnership has strengthened over the years.
That is going to continue for years and years,” Carlson said.
“Sometimes they will tell us to hold it down a bit in the announcements we make like schedules because of certain things happening within the government.”
The PGA Tour gained a foothold in China in 2014, providing opportunities for elite mainland players and from other countries.
Highly touted 19-year-old Dou Zecheng is the order of merit leader, having won four of the nine events, and already qualifies to play in the US next year on the Web.com Tour, the feeder tour to the prestigious PGA Tour.