Reporter Journal / Chris Davis

If golf is really an ancient Chinese sport, what's all the fuss about?

By Chris Davis (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-10-27 10:15

China's relationship with golf is often described as "love-hate" and it's perfectly understandable. It's the way I feel about it too.

Some days there aren't enough curse words in the English language, you wish you'd never heard of the game and you vow to never again pick up a club or pay good money to put golf balls on the bottom of ponds.

But then there are those other days, when you hit the sweet spot in time, the ball soars into the heavens, straight and true, the clouds part and the angels sing. The days that keep you coming back.

China's love-hate relationship seems to be much more complicated. The pastime that was derided by Mao Tse-tung as "a sport for millionaires" (which, for the record, I am not) often gets associated with bourgeois extravagance and a wasteful use of good, arable land.

New golf courses in China were banned in 2004, when there were fewer than 200 of them. Now there are more than 500, and some of the best in the world (ironically, 2004 was the same year China hosted its first regularly scheduled tournament, the BMW Asian Open).

CNN reported that just last week the Fusong county government shut down two world-class golf courses at Changbaishan Resort operated by Dalian Wanda Group - an 18-hole course designed by Jack Nicklaus and a 36-holer designed by Robert Trent Jones, both legends of the game.

There are home-grown stars like Zhang Lianwei, now 52, who in 2003 became the first Chinese golfer to win on the European tour, and Liang Wenchong, 39, Zhang's protg, who became the first Chinese player to reach the top 100 in world ranking.

And what golf fan can forget Guan Tianlang, who, in 2013 at the age of 14, made the first cut at the Masters, the youngest player ever?

Now comes news that golf - the vilified "green opium" - has taken on a new role in China. The Telegraph reports that the sport has become compulsory in some schools "to teach children etiquette and instill good behavior".

Jingwulu Primary School, in Jinan, in the eastern province of Shandong, introduced the sport to "foster children's strong determination, self-discipline and manners", headmistress Ji Yankun told the Telegraph.

"I don't think I'm being over dramatic in calling it a gentleman's sport, as there is so much good etiquette involved," she added.

The school has recruited coaches from Shandong Gold Golf Club to train the 9-year-old students in the niceties of the game, which are fairly formal, when you think about it, but also a good common sense way to keep from getting hurt.

One of the training pros called golf "an elegant sport", which it can be when some people play it (in this player's case it's more of a masochistic sport). The guys playing on TV make it look a lot easier than it really is.

What I like about golf is that it basically mimics four other sports that are favorites. There's the long drive from the tee, which is like trying to hit a baseball over the wall; the fairway approach shot, which is like placing a lob in tennis; the chip, which is like barroom darts; and putting, which is like snooker on a warped table - all outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

Without the etiquette of when each member of the foursome takes their turn to do each, chaos would reign and golf courses would need multiple first-aid stations.

The manners required are really part and parcel of the crux of the game - self-control. As it's been said, golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent mental. You really win and lose between your ears. Blow your top and you're doomed.

Physical education professor Ling Hongling of Northwest Normal University has set out to learn if there is any relationship between golf and Chuiwan, an ancient Song Dynasty (960-1279) game where competitors used colored sticks to drive balls into a series of holes in the ground.

Ling cites a 15th century painting titled Beautiful Women Playing Chuiwan, in which three women are watching a ball roll toward a hole while two servant girls are shouldering their sticks (the first caddies?).

"This interesting picture makes us so perplexed that we cannot help wondering whether the beautiful ladies are practicing Chuiwan or just playing golf," Ling writes.

Ling points out that the sticks have curved, weighted tops of varying size and "as the two games are identical in content, we can safely say that golf and Chuiwan are games of the same type".

The first mention of Western golf was in 1457, five centuries after the Song Dynasty, when the English Parliament under King James II passed laws to ban the sports of football and golf.

One major difference seems to be the size of the holes, which are much bigger in Chuiwan, which sounds like an advancement to me.

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