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Chinese Sign Deal with TaylorMade-Adidas

BEIJING -- Chinese golf officials are looking for a Yao Ming or Tiger Woods to give the largely unknown sport a higher profile.
However, the first celebrity in the game is likely to be a woman, perhaps resembling American Michelle Wie. On Tuesday, the China Golf Association and TaylorMade-Adidas Golf announced a three-year deal, allowing the manufacturer to supply China's national golf teams.
'A female Yao Ming may come first,' said Zhang Xiaoning, the chief secretary of the China Golf Association.
Dennis Allen, who leads the company's golf business in the Asia-Pacific region, notes that the China Golf Association was founded only 20 years ago. He is certain the game will catch on.
'We hope that through the partnership with the CGA and China's national team we will soon see a new generation of Chinese golfing talent,' Allen said. 'Golf naturally is going to become a part of the way of life here. It's happened elsewhere in Asia, and we know it's going to happen here.'
The CGA also announced an agreement with the Royal and Ancient for the sport's governing body outside the United States to provide coaches and rules of golf officials in the country within the next 12 months.
'We are delighted to assist our affiliated national association in China in this very practical way,' Royal and Ancient executive Peter Dawson said. 'Golfers worldwide follow the same set of rules, and with more competitions being played in China it is critical that the game, locally, finds referees that match up to the growing demand.'
In a country of 1.3 billion, China has only 300,000 golfers who play at least once a week, Allen said. That's a minuscule .0002 percent of the population. The figure goes to 5 million for golfers who play at least once every six months.
'The percentage of the population that plays golf here might as well be zero,' Allen said.
By comparison, the United States has an estimated 37 million golfers, which is about 12 percent of the population.
China's top male golfer is probably Zhang Lianwei, who has had modest success. The top two women professionals are Zuang Ping and Zhang Na, who have made little impact.
Golf is expensive in China, and the rules and etiquette are largely unknown. A weekday round of golf at a moderately priced club can cost about $125, Allen said. The price can be three or four times that much on the weekend, a few week's salary for even prospering Chinese.
Allen said it could be five to 10 years before China produces a star, with development slowed by the sport's elitist image.
'If we could go back 10 or 15 years and start over, we would have done everything possible to not turn it into an exclusive sport for the rich and famous,' Allen said.
'This is a very steep learning curve for China golf officials,' he added. 'When you talk about pingpong and gymnastics and swimming -- they don't need our help. But when it comes to the game of golf, they do.'
Like other largely western sports, golf in China offers enormous marketing possibilities aimed at China's rapidly growing middle class. Allen said mainland China has 312 courses, with another 100 in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Though there are few public courses in China, attempts to build more courses have been opposed by environmentalists and social activists who say the game serves only the wealthy.
'I believe Chinese golf is ready to move to the next level and take off, said Cui Dalin, a vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee. 'Today is a great day for the development of golf in China, a starting point.'
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