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Driving the game to a new era

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-09 09:47
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Shankai Sports investment fuels revival of PGA Tour China series

Golf's revival in China has gained a major boost with a 300 million yuan ($45 million) investment to drive the once-suspended PGA Tour China series to new heights.

The PGA Tour China, a pathway circuit offering promotions to higher ranks, announced on Thursday it has signed a 20-year partnership with Shankai Sports, a major Chinese sports marketing firm, to jointly operate and manage the series, starting in 2018.

After a one-year hiatus following the 2016 season, the Chinese Golf Association announced in October the series will resume in 2018 with at least four more seasons to follow after reaching a new agreement with the PGA Tour at the HSBC Championship in Shanghai, site of the series launch in 2014.

In the new season, the series will continue to reward the top five money winners with direct advancement to the Tour and with additional qualifier spots for the Tour for the next 15 players.

Shankai, a Beijing-based company, announced that its newly established golf venture is receiving 300 million yuan from Yao Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by former NBA All-Star Yao Ming and US-based IDG Capital, a major investor in Chinese internet and technology companies, to upgrade operation and marketing of the series.

Thanks to the investment, the series' 2018 season will feature 14 events, with each stop offering a total purse of 1.5 million yuan - a 25 percent increase from 2016.

Nearly 80 international golfers have signed up for the qualifying schools scheduled next month in Hainan province for the new season.

"With Shankai as our new partner, PGA Tour China is proud to say that the series is back, bigger and better," said Greg Gilligan, PGA Tour vice-president and Greater China managing director.

"IDG Capital and Yao Capital are placing their confidence and investment in what we are doing together. That's based on a very solid track record and the tremendous potential that we have."

Li Hong, co-founder and chairperson of Shankai, said the company's expertise in marketing the business and brand of international sports entities such as FIFA and UEFA will help raise the series' profile to the next level.

"Operating the series is a major undertaking and we're delighted to start this new era with the backing of major financial players who have vast experience in the sports sector," she said.

However, the emerging series' ride to official recognition has never been a smooth sail after the Chinese government's tightened control on golf course expansion affected its previous seasons and eventually caused cancelation of the 2017 season.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission, 111 golf courses have been shut down for illegal use of land and water resources, while another 507 have been ordered to rectify violations in construction and management since 2011.

Some of the host clubs of the PGA Tour China series were affected.

Still, Gilligan remains upbeat about the future, citing the government's credit for the series' positive influence.

"The General Administration of Sport of China gave us tremendous support (in restoring the series)," he said.

"They greatly value the series as a channel for China's young players to climb the professional ranks to join the world's best. They've been very supportive in all the details."

In August, Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun were confirmed as the first Chinese members of the PGA Tour after qualifying through the Tour, having finished in the top five for the 2016 PGA Tour China.

Li Haotong, the current world No 59 and China's top male golfer, also gained valuable experience from playing against top international players en route to winning the debut season of the series.

Li won the Volvo China Open last year, and this summer he closed with a 63 to finish third in the British Open. He chose to stay on the European Tour instead of trying to get a PGA Tour card through the Tour Finals.

"I reminded some friends of a story just a few years ago when everybody saw the Chinese and said, 'Wow the wolves have come' - but we've seen some tigers appear on our tour," said Gilligan.

"The supreme confidence we have in Chinese players has been shown on this platform much better and much sooner than we expected."

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