It may have taken the arrival of established professionals Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to drive home the point, but China's Mission Hills Group continues to chart the 21st-Century course for the development of new golfing talent.
More than 20,000 golf fans attended The Match at Mission Hills, the Oct. 28 exhibition pitting Woods vs. McIlroy, played around the Blackstone Course at Mission Hills Resort Haikou. McIlroy won by a stroke (67-68), but the more relevant golfing talent was on display prior to The Match, when Woods and McIlroy met with members Chinese National Junior Golf Team, then participated in a Skills Challenge with Guan Tianlang, the young Chinese who made the cut — as a 14-year-old — at the 2013 Masters.
The audience for that Skills Challenge (won by Guan, who turned 15 on Oct. 25) was telling: More than 120 junior golfers packed the temporary range set up in the shadow of the resort's massive, ornate hotel.
"Those young golfers were in attendance because they wanted to see their golfing idols — Tiger, Rory and young Guan — but they were in Hainan because we scheduled a major junior tournament on our Vintage Course the two days prior," said Ken Chu, Chairman of the Mission Hills Group. "Golf is like anything else — it is highly aspirational. We strongly believe that China will produce its first generation of world-class players only if they are provided access to great players, access to competitive opportunities, and access to golf courses themselves."
Chu noted that Guan is a product example of this dynamic. Guan has played junior events held at Mission Hills courses (mainly those at Mission Hills Resort Shenzhen, near his native Guangdong) since 2008.
"Following his Masters appearance in April 2013, Guan played several U.S. PGA Tour events, and now he comes to Hainan where he serves as inspiration and motivation to younger golfers, just as Tiger and Rory do," said Tenniel Chu, Ken's brother and Vice Chairman of the Mission Hills Group. "I wish everyone could have seen the looks on those kids' faces when Tiger and Rory waded into the crowd, to sign autographs and pose for pictures. It all fits together, in our view.
"Mission Hills owns and operates 12 courses at its Shenzhen location, 10 more here in Hainan. Junior golf development has always been a key component of the Mission Hills tournament schedule. Both properties have hosted some 14,000 rounds of junior competition since 2006. The two properties will host 36 separate events this year.
None of this is lost on Woods, himself a one-time golfing prodigy.
"In the last 12, 13 years, I've seen the growth and development of these junior golfers," Woods said during his post-Match press conference. "Guan making it to the Masters at age 14 just goes to show you what's going to happen — and what's going to come down the pipeline the next 15, 20 years. It's going to be quite amazing to see."
In October, the Chu Brothers were singled out by Golf Inc. magazine as "The Most Powerful People" in Asian golf. The magazine's ranking of world golf power brokers, listed the Chus 10th — the highest ranked non-Americans, along with R&A Secretary Peter Dawson.
It's reasonable to assume the Chus were so recognized on account of the Mission Hills Group's golf and commercial development prowess. In 2014, it will christen a pair of metropolitan leisure complexes — one beside it's Haikou resort, another in Shenzhen — boasting more than 1.2 million square meters of business, commercial and entertainment space.
"We're very excited to unveil the Centreville and Lan Kwai Fong projects, but honestly, we would prefer our legacy to be considered in more human terms," said Ken Chu. "We want people to say that the first generation of great Chinese golfers started here, with our efforts, which we encourage all developers in China to duplicate."
In January 2013, the Chu's mandated that three Mission Hills courses accommodate, at no charge, all golfers under the age of 16. McIlroy is certainly a fan of this initiative."
I wish, back when I was growing up, which wasn't that long ago, we had places like that — where we could come and play golf for free," the Irishman said during the post-Match press gathering. "To make golf more accessible, especially in a country like China where it's seen as a rich man's game, is just ‑‑ it's phenomenal."
Woods agreed: "The initiatives they have here at Mission Hills, I think they should be duplicated around the world — definitely a model that people should be looking at… It's going to be really amazing to see it over the next 15, 20 years, what the landscape of golf is going to look like and how many people are going to be from China or Asia Pacific playing at the world‑class level. A lot of it is due to what the Chus have done with both Mission Hills and their development programs."
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