Published: Monday November 5, 2012 MYT 11:01:00 AM
Mission Hills boss backs Tiger, Rory duel
DONGGUAN (China): The head of China's Mission Hills has backed glamorous exhibitions and pro-celebrity events as a great way to promote golf as he seeks to popularise the sport and expand his chain of resorts.
Despite outlandish scenes at last week's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, group chairman and CEO Ken Chu told AFP that such events were "fine" as they helped raise the profile of golf in China.
Chu also played down the need for more domestic tournaments after China's two best golfers - and its only representatives in the world's top 800 - voiced concerns over a lack of playing opportunities.
Last week's "Duel" in Zhengzhou was met with bemusement and guffaws by golf aficionados after fans invaded the practice range and fairways, helicopters were parked next to greens and models in evening wear posed at the tees.
McIlroy and Woods, ranked one and two in the world, who reportedly picked up millions of dollars for the one-day event, then drew fire for skipping the WGC-HSBC Champions, at Chu's Mission Hills resort, just three days later.
But Chu refused to criticise the "Duel", which is following a path laid out by Mission Hills when it hosted Tiger Woods at an exhibition in 2001, his first appearance in China.
"I think it's fine, because the world schedule is very tight," Chu said in an interview at the $7 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Dongguan, won by England's Ian Poulter on Sunday.
"I think exhibition matches go well with the international programme because the international calendar's too tight already," said Chu.
"Players don't necessarily play in all the tournaments on a weekly basis, they do want some time off - and they do want to make some side money."
Chu's sprawling resorts in Guangdong and Hainan, with a combined 22 courses, are the world's two largest golf clubs, and Mission Hills has more on the way in Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing.
The sharp-suited 38-year-old runs the burgeoning empire with his younger brother, Tenniel, after their father David Chu, who founded Mission Hills, died last year.
"Unfortunately we can't have the overseas superstars in and out of China so frequently, as much as we would like to," he said, lounging on a gold cushion at the lavish Dongguan clubhouse.
"But it is a way to grow Chinese golf and that's what we've been doing in the past as well."
Chu said it was not his job to invite players to the WGC-HSBC Champions - but he insisted it was no problem that Woods and McIlroy had opted out.
"It's not a problem definitely because it is still televised not just internationally but also nationally, live coverage," he said. "It is still a good channel to promote golf to the public."
Chu also said holding big international events was the best way to give opportunities to players in China, adding that domestic tournaments made little sense financially.
He was speaking after China's top two, Wu Ashun and Liang Wenchong, ranked 188 and 246, called for a better platform for the country's golfers.
"It all comes down to television broadcasts. Chinese players are not ranked that high in the international golf arena, therefore the tournaments that laymen like to watch are the US Tour," he said.
"If the US players are not playing, there's less interest, fewer sponsors, less prize money.
"The biggest benefit to Chinese golf today is to permit Chinese players to play frequently by hosting more international tournaments, US and European-sanctioned tournaments, in China.
"Or OneAsia tournaments co-sanctioned with the Chinese tour. Therefore there's wildcards for the Chinese players to play to compete with these overseas players to generate viewership."
Chu said Mission Hills would also follow the strategy of using glitzy pro-celebrity golf tournaments to promote its product, which includes expensive club memberships and luxury villas at its resorts.
Last month Michael Phelps, Yao Ming, Ronaldo and Andy Garcia were among the A-list guests at a golf-cum-red-carpet event at Mission Hills Haikou in Hainan.
"Only golf-lovers will watch golf on TV. Laymen will not tune into the Golf Channel, and laymen will not go to a golf club to watch a tournament," Chu explained.
"But the general public will go to see superstars and movie stars. That is a huge way of promoting golf, reaching out to another sector of the crowd." - AFP