Shenzhen, China: In a fitting example of the growth of golf in mainland China over the past two decades, a record 45 Chinese players will line at this week’s 25th anniversary of the Volvo China Open.
The longest-running professional golf tournament in China, the RMB20 million (about US$3.2 million) event is tri-sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and the China Golf Association.
Being staged at the Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen, 156 players are competing in China’s national Open. With more than a quarter of the field comprising Chinese players, the Volvo China Open can claim to be China’s premier golfing showcase.
From 13-year-old amateur Ma Bingwen right up to the legendary figure of 54-year-old Zhang Lianwei – the only ever-present in the 24 tournaments staged so far – the field bristles with Chinese talent.
The 2003 Volvo China Open champion, Zhang is being joined by fellow former-winners Li Haotong (2016) and Wu Ashun (2015) who have both made great strides in the global game, winning five European Tour titles between them.
But it’s the emphasis on youth that’s key with 19 of the 45 Chinese starters not having been born when the first Volvo China Open was staged a quarter of a century ago at a time when the number of players and courses were few and far between.
However, since Volvo established that first event in 1995, the game has grown in the world’s most populous nation with young up-and-coming players continuing to raise the bar.
In 2013, at the age of just 12 years and 242 days, Ye Wocheng became the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event when he played in the Volvo China Open, breaking a record set just 12 months earlier when his compatriot Guan Tianlang played in the tournament at the age of 13.
This year all eyes will be on the latest batch of rising stars including 14-year-old Kuang Yang, winner of the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship; 15-year-old Chen Guxin, the 2017-2018 China Amateur Open champion; and 17-year-old Lian Enqi, who qualified through Volvo Amateur Qualifying Final event.
Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of the European Tour, believes that Chinese golf will continue to rise. “You only have to look at the development of players such as Li Haotong to see how golf has grown in China,” he said.
“With the philosophy of the China Golf Association in developing grass-roots golf, I think the sport can only grow in China and we’ll one day see a Chinese player in the world’s top-10.”