China Where Clubs Are Born

By Adam BarrJanuary 14, 2007, 5:00 pm
ZENG CHENG, China ' The controlling question is always, 'What would the ancient Scots have thought?'

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.

Email your thoughts to Adam Barr

Getty Images

Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
Getty Images

Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

Getty Images

Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

Getty Images

Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”