With 600 courses nationwide, golf's a growing sport in China. Daniel Richardson tees off.

You don't simply grab your clubs and head out for a round of golf in China.

With a casual round costing up to $200 at most courses - that fee ballooning on the weekends - it's predominantly limited to businesspeople and officials, but it is expanding.

The sport has grown considerably during the past few years and there are now nearly 600 courses nationwide, compared with 170 in 2004.

China's rising middle class has slowly begun to break into the sport and golf has continued to boom during the past nine years.


Chang Zhihui, a researcher at the Beijing Forestry University's golf education and research centre, estimated recently that 600,000 people on the Chinese mainland are members of a golf club, and that figure is expected to increase by 20 per cent annually in coming years.

In winter, they play on indoor simulators - there are more than 100 such courses in China's capital, Beijing. There's no lack of corporate backing in the sport either and Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were last October reportedly paid US$2 million ($2.3 million) and US$1m respectively to play a one-round exhibition in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province that was dubbed the "Duel at Jinsha Lake". For the record, McIlroy won by one shot after shooting a five-under 67.

One of the prominent businessmen who has taken a keen interest in golf is Beta Soong, who owns the Shanghai Silport Golf Club and who also designed the Tiger Beach Golf Links, despite having no previous background in course design.

Our travelling group was given a taste of what happens on the links in China when we played at Silport.

We were lucky enough to first be given a few pointers at the driving range from our Hongqiao Golf Academy professional, Jim Kung.

You can say what you like about golf professionals but Kung seemed like a true master and, after basic changes, he had me hitting the balls down the centre of the range as opposed to my previous collection of slices and hooks.

It'd be fair to say I'm no more than a Sunday hacker so the million-dollar question was going to be, how would these adjustments transfer to the course? Everyone looks good on the range - there's no pressure at the range.

We arrived at the Silport Golf Club and had lunch and it was clear that we had ventured to an elite course.

Nearly every group of players is given a cart and a caddy.

A caddy?

I should carry my own clubs because my poor play is a slight on the game, but in China every player gets a caddy. You'd hate to think how little the caddies are paid and we made sure we tipped them after our round but it was hard to deny they knew their stuff.

Mine offered me sound advice on which club to use and knew the greens pretty well, the only problem was my inability to execute.

Because of time constraints we could squeeze in only nine holes at Silport, but after losing a handful of balls and racking up plenty of bogeys it's probably best we didn't battle through a full 18.

We will leave that to the regulars.

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily direct to Shanghai from Auckland.

Daniel Richardson travelled to Shanghai courtesy of Air New Zealand.