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China joins Euro tour.

The growth of golf in the world's most populated country takes another big step today when the Volvo China Open becomes part of the European tour.

Prize money has been doubled to more than pounds 550,000, next year will see another 30 per cent added to the purse and it is even hoped that in time the event will have 'major' status.

Ten years ago there were just 10 courses throughout the whole country - one of them only nine holes - but now 190 are listed and the number of Chinese playing the game has exploded from a handful to more than 200,000.

This year also saw the first Chinese - Zhang Lian-wei, this week's defending champion - compete in the Masters at Augusta. And he missed the halfway cut by only one shot.

'It's a big progression, but I think the next 10 years will be even bigger,' said Hu Jian Guo, vice-chairman of the China Golf Association.

The possibility is certainly there. There are, after all, currently 1.3billion Chinese, five times the number of Americans.

Mel Pyatt, president and chief executive officer of Volvo event management, is adamant, however, that the development of the national Open, now in its 10th season, will happen without resorting to appearance money.

'If Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson come then great - it will help the championship,' said Pyatt, a former European tour player himself. 'But in the last 17 years I've never approached a player once and that's not the strategy here.'

Thomas Bjorn, currently ranked 31st, is the leading player taking part at the Shanghai Silport club.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 25, 2004
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