China Where Clubs Are Born Every Day
As I have watched the modern game develop into everything from desert golf to titanium shafts to titanium heads to launch monitors and beyond, I have always wondered how the 15th-century hawthorn-stick crowd would have reacted to the spread of the pastoral little pastime they came up with. It must have all seemed so simple then. Need a whippier shaft? Shave a little off the back. Ball not springy enough? Stuff a new one. And even by the early 19th century, golfs reach didnt extend much farther than a dozen or so courses in eastern Scotland, known only to the games handful of enthusiasts.
Likely thoughts as your driver bullets you down a boulevard in southeastern China, where traffic control devices, if they exist at all, are the merest decoration. We are here, about 45 minutes from Guangzhou, Chinas third-largest city, to shoot a show on the birth of a golf club. But we are far beyond blackthorn trees and blacksmiths.
A few blocks from one of five plants Sino Golf Manufacturing operates in this area, we have just dispensed with todays Were Gonna Die Moment. Our driver held his own against a truck that interfered with our left turn, and all is well again. Down to business.
With officials from Nickent Golf, we walk the highly organized plant floor. John Hoeflich, the noted club designer for Nickent, is watching his 4DX driver head come to life in its 1,700 Celsius nursery ' Chinas biggest vacuum furnace.
We had a lot of success with the weight ports in our hybrids, Hoeflich says. We want to transfer that same technology to drivers.
That takes a complicated mold, made from a steel master known in the industry as a tool. There is some tension as the first prototypes are tried, and not just because of the intricacy of the tool. Theres also the titanium, which is more spongy than liquid when molten. It cant be poured into a casting mold the way steel can. So it has to be forced into every corner of every mold. Thats where Sinos expertise comes in.
Theres a huge wheel in there, where the molds are, says Simon Chu, Sinos executive director and our tour guide. The titanium ingot melts, and the wheel spins the molds at up to 300 rpm. The titanium gets where its supposed to go.
It better, because the titanium crown on this driver is only 0.4 mm thick, a little thinner than a business card. That will leave some room in the overall clubhead weight for the ports, which get some mass low and back, consistent with Hoeflichs plan and the well-proven laws of center-of-gravity in clubheads. Inside the furnace, viewed through a tiny porthole, is the silvery ingot, descending into a white-hot inferno. From this otherworldly realm will come the reality that was no more than a napkin drawing just months ago. For Hoeflich, who had a hand in designing such club stalwarts as the Titleist DCI irons, the Tommy Armour 845s, and numerous products for TaylorMade and others, this is how the modern development game plays out.
And increasingly, this is where it plays out. The playing of the game is certainly global, at least at the professional level. Golfs purveyors look at this country of 1.2 billion and salivate at the potential market. But for now, the consumer end of the business in China has yet to take off. A growing middle class will help, especially in the cities, but most wise heads in golf agree that those awaiting golfs golden era as a participatory sport in China will need patience.
But the B-to-B golf world is thriving here, as foundries such as Sino compete for the business of all manner of club companies. Labor costs are an issue, to be sure, but the desire to have clubs made here goes beyond the economics. With foundries competing, club developers who come to China can forge partnerships in development instead of just vendor relationships ' and that leads to quality for the consumer. What the Chinese companies have been willing to learn and do for the golf club developers has made its way into some top clubs. And while there will always be a component of the consumer population that prefers to buy domestic product, Chinese manufacturing has become a fact of golf equipment life.
We get a great deal out of our partnership with Sino, Hoeflich says. They understand what were trying to do with this club.
On the street outside Sino, Zeng Chengs day continues, enriched by the curiosity of rarely seen TV cameras. Two schoolboys, age about 10, smile as I say Ni hao, and muster the courage to say Hi. They laugh at the exotic joy of speaking a little English to the enormous stranger, with his badly accented Mandarin. Down the dusty street, a nonchalant dog continues his trot across the truck lane, ignoring horns: he knows his timing. A woman in red velvet slippers pedaling a bicycle cart overloaded with textiles stares at our cameras, sees us staring back, and instantly turns away in shyness.
We are 10,000 miles and centuries away from the origins of the game we serve, but not more than 100 feet from its spread. Which is probably what the ancient Scots would have thought.
How to watch The Open on TV and online
You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.
Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie
In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.
Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:
(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)
Monday, July 16
GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)
GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Tuesday, July 17
GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Wednesday, July 18
GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Thursday, July 19
GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)
GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Friday, July 20
GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Saturday, July 21
GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Sunday, July 22
GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)
GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)
GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods is competing in his first Open Championship since 2015. We're tracking him this week at Carnoustie.
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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major
Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:
What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.
What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.
How old is it?
It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.
Where is it played?
There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.
Where will it be played this year?
At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.
Who has won The Open on that course?
Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).
Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?
Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.
Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?
This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.
Who has won this event the most?
Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.
What about the Morrises?
Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.
Have players from any particular country dominated?
In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.
Who is this year's defending champion?
That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.
What is the trophy called?
The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).
Which Opens have been the most memorable?
Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.
When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?
Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.
Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.
According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.
Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.
Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.
Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.
And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.
Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.