Nurturing tomorrow's champions
Updated: 2012-10-30 07:59
Zurich Classic of New Orleans Champion Jason Dufner will participate in the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions tournament, which will be held from Nov 1 to 4 in Guangdong. Photos provided to China Daily
Tourney sponsor: Sport's next star could come from Chinese mainland
Editor's note: Over the past few years, leading British multinational bank HSBC has helped to support and promote golf through its sponsorship of a junior program and the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament.
With an eye toward the upcoming 2012 championships, China Daily reporter Ma Zhenhuan sat down with Giles Morgan, HSBC's group head of sponsorship and events, to talk about the role HSBC has played in the development of the sport in China.
Q: Given the financial strains created by the current global economic downturn, how will this effect the company's sponsorships? Will HSBC continue to sponsor such events in the future?
A: The current climate means that these sponsorships are important to reflect our business and brand, but it also becomes even more important that they are meeting the needs and goals of the business and that they are a sound investment. I can't say that we look at our sponsorships more carefully, because we couldn't be more careful and diligent than we are already, but we have a duty to ensure that these sponsorships are money well spent and as long as they remain money well spent, we will continue with them and continue to refine the portfolio to meet our business needs.
We are focusing on fewer flagship sponsorships in our most important markets, and Shanghai and South China are an important part of this strategy. China of course is a key market and the HSBC Champions stands alongside some of our other major flagship events, such as Wimbledon and the HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Q: Could you give a comment on the participating players for this year's HSBC Champions? What will be this year's highlights?
A: There are highlights everywhere - that's the great thing about this tournament and why it has become known by many as "Asia's major". The tournament boasts the toughest qualification criteria of all the World Golf Championships, with the majority of the field qualifying only by winning a key tournament on their tours or by being ranked in the world's top 25.
From Europe, we've got 10 of the victorious Ryder Cup team. It's going to be great to see reigning champion Martin Kaymer defend his crown, and he's joined by World No 3 Luke Donald, World No 4, Lee Westwood, World No 5 Justin Rose, Ryder Cup top points scorer Ian Poulter, 2010 US Open Champion Graeme McDowell, 2010 WGC-HSBC Champion Francesco Molinari, 2012 Volvo World Match Play Champion Nicolas Colsaerts, former British Open Champion Paul Lawrie and 2012 KLM winner Peter Hanson.
And the American challenge looks really strong this year - in addition to former winner Phil Mickelson and his Ryder Cup partner Keegan Bradley, we've got crowd favorite and Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2012 FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker, multiple PGA Tour winner Jason Dufner and World No 13 Dustin Johnson.
In addition, we've got the resurgent South African and current British Open Champion Ernie Els, the in-form Louis Oosthuizen and Australia's Adam Scott, who are sure to contribute, not to mention the local challenge - China has had an incredible golfing year, and it is only a matter of time before a major Chinese challenge emerges.
Q: This year marks the first time the HSBC Champions will be held in South China. The HSBC Champions in Shanghai last year drew a total of 29,000 spectators. Can you give a forecast about this year's crowds? Guangdong is one of the places where golf first gained a foothold in China, is this an important reason why the championships were moved to Shenzhen?
A: I'm personally excited about the prospect of the 2012 HSBC Champions being played at Mission Hills Guangdong. While Guangdong may be dubbed the birthplace of Chinese golf, it was really the Chu family who had the foresight to develop golf in Guangdong and we saw the opportunity for growth in China. And having nurtured WGC-HSBC Champions into a major event over seven years in Shanghai we can now look forward to expanding our horizons even further in southern China, both because of its proximity to Hong Kong and also so that Chinese golf fans there will have an opportunity to witness some of the world's best professionals compete.
Q: This year's HSBC Champions will be held at the Olazabal Course of the Mission Hills Golf Club. What, in your view, will be the highlight of this course?
A: The course very much reflects the man whose name it bears and is sure to produce a tournament worthy of his name - let's hope it's characterized by the passion and skill that he has brought to the game of golf for so many years.
The course boasts 151 bunkers, which reflect Olazabal's reputation as a master with the sand wedge. The numerous, deep bunkers, along with its undulating fairways are two distinguishing features of the course. The Olazabal Course was also the host venue for the 2007, 2008 & 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup, so it's got a pedigree for hosting high-profile international golf events.
Q: Aside from the HSBC Champions, will HSBC sponsor other tournaments for women and junior golfers in China? How do you feel about the achievements HSBC has made in nurturing China's junior golfers?
A: We are making significant progress. This was highlighted back in August when a China junior team beat the US in their own backyard at the USA-China Youth Golf match at the CordeValle Golf Resort in San Martin, California.
This really was big news and it is a real point of pride for HSBC that of the nine players who were selected to represent China, eight of them had previously won the HSBC Junior Championships Final, while the other one was a runner-up.
The last few months have been a genuine watershed moment for golf in China - Feng Shanshan, Andy Zhang, the China Youth team and then Jing Yan. The good news just kept coming and coming and there's no sign of it stopping.
This is no coincidence because in addition to our sponsorship of major tournaments, such as the WGC-HSBC Champions event, we have spent almost 10 years sponsoring youth development and grassroots programs, such as the HSBC China Junior Golf Program, a sustainable long-term structure and framework to develop the future of Chinese golf. With the progress of new stars like Andy and Jing, both graduates of the program, we are starting to see the fruits of this investment.
Q: How do you think the championship will help boost HSBC's overall business, especially among China's wealthiest and elite class?
A: Golf is big business and China has a huge role to play - since we started sponsoring the HSBC Champions event in 2005, we have seen huge changes and this is set to continue. Our sponsorship of HSBC Champions is part of our business strategy where we engage our most important customers in our most important locations with sponsorships that resonate with our brand and our business.
The professional game is booming in China and as a result, we'll see a bigger Asian presence in the world's Top 10 and the next Tiger Woods - the hot sponsorship and TV property of 2020 - will be a young Asian player.
There will be more high-profile events in the region. There are 12 European Tour events in Asia this year, and the standard of events is improving too, for example the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Singapore Open.
As a result of this growth in the professional game and the rise of the middle classes, Asia will have more players, more courses and more brands.
Asian consumers are spending more time on the golf course, and children are starting to play the game at an early age. In China, the number of courses has tripled in less than a decade, and new low-cost urban courses and Olympic status will continue this trend. We'll also see Asian golf brands making major inroads into the golf market. For example, last year Fila Korea bought American golf equipment maker Acushnet (owner of the Titleist and FootJoy brands) for $1.2 billion.
(China Daily 10/30/2012 page22)