SHANGHAI — As Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera captivated golf fans in a sudden death playoff at this year’s Masters Tournament, a young golfer with far less experience also made headlines.
Fourteen-year-old Tianlang Guan was the youngest player ever to compete in the Masters. The Chinese teen was the only one of six amateurs competing in Augusta, Ga., to make the cut. Despite finishing near the bottom of the pack with a 12-over par, Guan impressed fellow competitors and galleries.
For a country with a relatively brief history in golf — its first modern golf course was built in 1984 — the eighth-grader’s success may represent a new direction for the sport in China.
There are more than 300 golf courses in China, and more are being built annually. But unlike the easily affordable and accessible public courses in the United States, most of those in China are at luxurious country clubs reserved for the financially elite.
“It’s definitely like a social status, to be a member at a big club and have that opportunity just to play,” said Cyrus Janssen, an American who serves as the lead instructor at Shanghai’s world-renowned Sheshan International Golf Club.
“In China, in Asia, golf is more than just a sport. It’s a lifestyle,” he said. “That’s the type of lifestyle they’re looking for.”
Yan Wang is the chairman of the board of Changchun Guoxin Investment Group, a Chinese private enterprise company that got its start in real estate development in 1998. Wang, 55, said he began playing golf out of curiosity 10 years ago and now played several times a month.
Because he travels so frequently, Wang has memberships at golf clubs all over China. He often finishes business trips with rounds of golf with his colleagues.
David Lee, who helps develop and build golf courses in China and also works as a consultant for the championship-quality Tomson Golf Club in Shanghai’s Pudong district, said it was understandable that golf was out of reach for most Chinese.