Chinese Golf Great Steps Forward
As dizzying as the drive is Chinas progress toward modernization, toward the benefits of a market economy under a totalitarian government that is redefining Communism, toward a society that may allow leisure pursuits such as golf to flourish in the decades ahead. The course you see when entering Beijing, mostly empty now, could one day be filled with more than the occasional foursome of political and economic elite who now make up most of Chinas small golfing population.
Depending on whose estimate you accept, that population could be a million, or a thousand ' either way, its a thin slice of the countrys general population of about 1 billion. The eyebrow-raiser in golf and related industries is the potential. By most estimates, there are about 50 million golfers in the world (although some experts consider that number generous because it includes very occasional players). If even 1 percent of Chinese end up as habitual golfers, the world golf total goes up by 10 million, or 20 percent. And they all spend.
What it will take is a strong middle class, said Wally Uihlein, chief executive of the Acushnet companies (Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra), who has traveled extensively in China. That, plus a cadre of playing pros and teachers to set the right example and make the game a target of aspiration for a broad audience, Uihlein said.
Throughout history, Uihlein noted, middle classes ' managers, up-and-coming executives, creative services experts, and others ' have broadened the reach of sports started by an economic or political elite. The middle class brings the disposable income, the desire for leisure activities, and the numbers.
And their numbers are said to be growing. U.S. news reports tout Western-style housing developments going up near big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai (the nations ' and one of Asias ' major financial centers). Grocery stores instead of mom-and-pops, a greater demand for cars, other markers of a burgeoning middle class ' they all point to potential for golf.
So does the countrys initial interest in the game, which comports with Chinas current romance with the trappings of Western economies. The PGA European Tour plays this week on Hainan Island, a popular South China Sea resort. Chinas tireless, can-do manufacturing community has become a dominant player in the making of golf club heads, shafts, and grips, by some estimates displacing Taiwan and Japan as major centers of golf equipment manufacturing.
But new Chinese golfers will need places to play. There are already some big golf developments in China, such as the $400 million, 10-course Mission Hills resort, near industrially rich Shenzhen on the countrys southern coast. What China needs, say observers, is courses for the non-elite. In short, daily fees, upscale and otherwise.
That need and some good timing has led George Peper, former editor of GOLF Magazine and probably the most popular American resident of St. Andrews, Scotland, to start a business as liaison between U.S. golf course architects and Chinese developers. Pepers ChinaLinks Golf Consulting, formed with his colleagues at the Chinese version of GOLF, will help bridge cultural and geographical gaps that had kept developers and architects from finding and knowing each other. At a conference in Beijing this May, seven architects ' Mike Devries, Dana Fry, Don Knott, Mark McCumber, Kyle Phillips, Baxter Spann, and Peter Thomson ' will form the coming-out party.
The conference has the support of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, which has made a priority of world golf development (indeed, R&A chief Peter Dawson will speak in Beijing) and the China Golf Association. The CGA knows the intimate workings of the Chinese government, whose cooperation is crucial to any development process.
Its booming over there, but theres more enthusiasm than knowledge and contact with best practices, Peper said by phone from St. Andrews. The very high-end architects already have a foothold in Asia, Peper said, and they have picked off some of the larger, more visible projects. But developers of courses for the middle-class masses, whose participation is seen by some as vital to the games success, have other economic priorities.
Some developers dont want to spend the million-plus [that a Nicklaus or Dye would cost] at this juncture, Peper said, but theyre not averse to spending close to that. Real estate based golf developments, also feeding middle class desires, are a likely avenue for many new courses.
So Peper and his partners could be sitting on a win-win proposition, with the architects, Chinese golf, and the world golf industry benefiting. And some good courses could be laid down in the process. Phillips, for example, designed the universally praised Kingsbarns, just down the road from St. Andrews.
The forecast is for up to 1,000 courses to be built in China over the next ten years, Peper said. The potential upshot for golf is ' well, dizzying.
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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone
HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.
It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.
Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.
It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.
''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''
The reward now?
''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''
He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.
During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.
''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''
Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.
''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''
During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.
''Bones, don't ever do that again.''
It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.
Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.
And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.
It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.
''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''
Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.
And not the Masters.
He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.
''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''
There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.
Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.
''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''
He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.
''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.
He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.
''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''
Except for that first week in April.
The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't
The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.
All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.
By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.
Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.
As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:
This is unreal,hiding in kitchen beachside missile attack from North Korea. Alarm went out all over Hawaii, and it’s no test...— Jesper Parnevik (@JesperParnevik) January 13, 2018
In a basement under hotel. Barely any service. Can you send confirmed message over radio or tv https://t.co/qHLeQSecnd— JJ Spaun (@JJSpaun) January 13, 2018
Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in laws. Please lord let this bomb threat not be real.— John Peterson (@JohnPetersonFW) January 13, 2018
While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:
Yeah, you heard that right.
“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”
Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.
Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.
Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.
As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.
Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.
Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.
With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.
First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.
“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”
Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.
We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.
The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.
These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.
Here's two more just for good measure.
Focus on a different face every time and this 15 second clip turns into 10 minutes of pure entertainment pic.twitter.com/JJeVV5eaVh— Laces Out (@LacesOutShow) January 15, 2018
Farts ... will they ever not be funny?
Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.
Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.
Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"
Yeah Tommy, we all got that.
Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.
But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.
We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.
Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.
PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.
Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.
Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman
Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.
Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.
Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).
The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."
In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.
Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator
Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)
But here's one that deserves distinction.
Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.