School hooks students with sport

Updated: 2013-11-27 23:48

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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Game that was once seen as elitist is catching on in China

School hooks students with sport

Students from Shenzhen Senior High School practice swings at a nearby golf club as part of the school's elective golf course, which was launched in 2009 to promote the sport at a grassroots level while educating students about etiquette and discipline. Provided to China Daily

School is not normally a place where students get into the swing of things, but one school is embarking on its own course to get students up to par.

For teenager Zhang Junbin, that means Thursday afternoons is the time to hit the fairways and stay out of the rough, when golf practice on a picturesque green with professional trainers takes the place of lessons and study.

"Every Monday, I hope Thursday comes as quickly as possible so I can practice golf during school time, and nobody will blame me for playing while not reading or writing," said Zhang, an eighth-grader at Shenzhen Senior High School.

The school has shown a driving ambition to introduce golf as part of its optional curriculum.

Zhang and 20 schoolmates have been able to work on their swing, a big change from years ago when golf was considered too much of an elitist sport to be taught in schools.

"We believe it's the right time to promote it widely among youth," Wu Zhiyou, a politics teacher and organizer of the school's golf program, told China Daily.

Launched in 2009, the weekly golf course sees students from seventh through tenth grades get lectures at school and take in practice at nearby clubs during elective-course break on Thursday afternoons.

It's nothing new for some private schools in cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou to offer costly campus training programs, but introducing it into public primary and secondary schools has been difficult because of the lack of facilities, the club fees and potential security issues.

Shenzhen Senior High School cooperates with at least five clubs, which provide free training and golf equipment.

Some of the clubs even introduced renowned golfers like former China No 1 Zhang Lianwei to share their experience with the students.

The clubs "also want to market their brand by working with us. It's a win-win situation, which has eased concerns among parents over the cost," Wu said.

The program has already reaped results, as Zhang Junbin has already established his reputation by winning the 12-15 category at the Mission Hills Golf Series Junior Tour 2013.

"The school program means I can strike a balance between school and training," said Zhang, who picked up a golf club at the tender age of 7 after being inspired by his father.

Unique case

Can the program be emulated by other public schools? Pundits are optimistic but remain cautious.

Zhang Xiaochun, the dean of the College of Golf at Shenzhen University, attributes the campus promotion to Shenzhen's rich golf tradition and accessible infrastructure.

"After all, golf remains a minority sport that requires certain natural conditions and financial support. It doesn't belong to everybody, at least currently in China," Zhang said.

According to the Chinese Golf Association, Shenzhen has 25 golf courses, the most of any Chinese city.

The average fee for playing an 18-hole round at a private club is about 800 yuan ($131) for non-members, a third of the cost 10 years ago, said Chang Xiangqian, general manager of Shenzhen Noble Merchant Golf Club.

Benefiting from the lower expenditure, more than a dozen schools in the southern coastal city have introduced similar golf classes.

"It's great to be able to let children get exposed to the golf culture early, but we are not yet able to offer affordable public facilities as the US does. Low-price policies for juniors in Shenzhen won't necessarily happen in inland cities," Zhang said.

Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, echoed Zhang's sentiments, stressing that golf is not a popular sport like table tennis and basketball.

School training

Parents who expect their children to be the next Guan Tianlang — the youngest player to qualify for the Masters — or Feng Shanshan, China's first LPGA major winner, have to spend time and money sending their children to clubs for professional training.

"If you want to make it a career for your child, you have go on your own to hire a coach or to find a place to practice," said Hu Jun, father of the 6-12 category winner Hu Diandian of the Shenzhen Junior Championships.

Hu takes his son to practice at a local club every day after school and spends 100,000 yuan a year on trainers' fees and course rentals.

Zhang Xiaochun, dean of the College of Golf at Shenzhen University, said golf trainers must get into the schools, possibly by getting teaching certificates.

"This will be a big issue with the business growing. There must be approved channels for them to get into schools as PE teachers," Zhang said.