by Al Campbell
VANCOUVER, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- As golf gets set to be reinstated into the 2016 Olympics roster following an absence of 112 years, it is a safe bet the profile of the sport will rise significantly in China as the Rio de Janeiro Games approach.
While China is a relative novice at golf, the country has, however, made rapid progress in the sport since the game was reintroduced into the country in 1984 with the opening of the Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club in Zhongshan, Guangdong province.
With the country now boasting about 500 golf clubs, over the past decade or so an army of promising young talent has been developing that ensures China's golf future.
Yan Jing, a 14-year-old national team player, led the China women to a team silver medal in the golf competition at last November's Asian Game in Guangzhou, and also captured the women's silver medal in the individual competition. At the Junior World Championships in San Diego in July, 12-year-old Wang XiangSui captured the girl's 11-12 age division, by a staggering 11 shots.
Not to be outdone, 12-year-old Guan Tianlang matched Wang's feat in winning the 11-12 years boys category, while Ye Wo-Cheng was runner-up in the 9-10 years group. At the Indonesia Open in July, an unprecedented 26 Chinese male pros were in the field.
In Canada, young Chinese players are also making their mark in golf. At a driving range in Richmond, a Vancouver suburb city, Pacific Golf Academy is developing a group of 15 young players, the majority of them new immigrants from China's mainland, with the goal of turning them into top amateurs. The goal is ultimately to be good enough to be eligible for golf scholarships offered at American universities when they turn 18.
The opportunity to get trained into an elite player, those who can regularly shoot par-golf or better, something the majority of casual golfers can only dream about, comes with a hefty price; Pacific Golf offers a variety of training packages with the most expensive being 16,000 Canadian dollars for four two-hour training sessions a week for 10 months.
"The kids start young, and really the Eastern philosophy is you pick a sport, you get a coach, you do it properly, you work hard at it and become successful," said David Bolton, a former touring pro who founded the academy in 1999 with partner and fellow pro Daryl Stubbs.
"We're trying to do a sort of East meets West philosophy where we want to inject fun into the equation, which sometimes doesn't sit well with the parents. But we're firm in that belief that if the kids aren't enjoying it, when the parents aren't here they won't do it."
So far, Bolton and Stubb's young charges are doing it. Former student Zach Duan Chenxiao, a 20-year-old from Beijing, is currently attending the University of California Irvine on a golf scholarship, while current student Raymond Li Qiyuan, a 10-year-old whose family hails from Zhengzhou, Henan province, tied for 19th at the recent World Juniors.
"It is his for his future, let him, how can I say, have one more skill for life," said Wendy Guo, Li's watchful mother on why she has immersed her son in the intense golf training. She notes her child is many years away from potentially being scouted by American universities. "I just provide the chance for Raymond, to help him to practice, to go to the competition. His future, I think, decide by himself if he play or not."
Li, however, declares he's already made up his mind and would like a career as a touring pro, while confidently executing a drive of about 200 yards at the Savage Creek driving range, Pacific Golf Academy's training headquarter.
"That's going to take a lot of hard work, no doubt. Well it's going to take hours of practice, normally a lot of focus, concentration, hours on the course, lots of tournaments to be played and it's going to be sometimes rough, sometimes easy. You just got to keep striving on 'til the end," said the boy who next year will move up an age group and compete on courses over 6,000 yards for the first time.
"Hopefully, it's not going to be so rough. I'm going to try my best to do everything I can. I'll try to complete everything I can. I'm still young. I still have a lot of time, so I can try."
Susan Wang, a 13-year-old from Hangzhou, moved to Vancouver three years ago. Picking up the game in June, she has already demonstrated good progress in posting a best score of 96. Now hooked on the sport, the teenager said she doesn't care about the future she just wants to get better now.
"I just think it's fun and challenging," she said. "I'm practicing four days a week and play (on a course) twice a week. My friends think I'm crazy that I practice that many times."
With the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the semi-voluntary body that organizes the athletic programs of many American colleges and universities, requiring the schools to offer as many scholarships to girls as it does to boys, Bolton figures this is where golf can benefit a young girl that is half decent at the sport.
As a lot of scholarships are taken up by boys for American football programs, a sport that's not offered to girls, many schools offer additional golf scholarships for girls. This can often mean four years of free education, room and board, the chance of getting a degree, top coaching and playing at the highest amateur level.
Bolton estimates, depending on the esteem of the school, a full scholarship is worth anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 U.S dollars a year.
"But it's up to them (the student). We provide the platform or the opportunity for them to get to where they need to go. It becomes how motivated are they? How much do they love it? Really, how good can they get? I would say they all have an opportunity to get a scholarship in some form. Like if you go right through the junior colleges right up to NCAA Division One," he said.
"Girls now in the NCAA with the equity program, I think almost any girl with (training in) a golf program could get a golf scholarship."