Return on investment: China`s wealthy embrace junior golf
Beijing: China`s wealthy have no qualms about spending on luxury lifestyles, but one sport has got them especially excited due to its potential investment returns: golf lessons for the kids.
From the tee to the green, golf is an expensive affair in China and one that is seen as a status symbol. But those who can afford it are signing up their children in droves, hoping to transform them into the next Tiger Woods.
"Many parents and children are becoming engaged in the sport. In the past, golf reached a relatively small group of people, but now it`s becoming more and more widespread," said Cui Zhiqiang, vice-president of the China Golf Association.
"The prospects are looking very good, with more people getting involved in junior golf, which is gaining greater public attention and recognition in society."
Once considered bourgeois, golf was banned by China`s Communist Party, and the country`s first golf course was only built in 1984.
But with an explosion of interest in recent years, some parents are now prepared to fork out around 300,000 yuan (USD 43,940) year on lessons for the children.
Last weekend, the country`s future golf stars teed off in the fourth China Junior Golf Open Tournament held in Chengdu, capital of China`s southwestern Sichuan province.
Organised by the China Golf Association with high-profile sponsorship, the tournament costs each participant more than 10,000 yuan, almost 10 times the monthly income of an average Chinese factory worker.
Though statistically less than one percent of China`s population play golf today, more courses and rising incomes mean the sport is becoming more accessible to the elite.
Yang Manlixiang, 7, has been playing golf for over three years and wants to become a professional golfer. For her, it`s more than just a sport.
"Playing golf can earn me a lot of money," Yang said.
Yang`s father, Yang Quan, is also prepared to pay big money to train his daughter to go professional in the future.
"I have not carefully calculated the cost of training my daughter to play golf. But I think I need to invest at least four or five million yuan altogether. I need to keep her training and attending tournaments," he said.
While many junior golfers, especially teenagers, dream of going pro, for many more, golf is just a little more than a after-school pursuit akin to piano-playing.
China, where golf was once labelled `green opium` because it was seen as expensive and elitist, only has around 500 courses, compared to 18,000 courses in the U.S. and an estimated 6,000 in Europe.
While China`s state sport system pays for the training of professional athletes in most sports, golf is one of the few in which individuals must cover all the training expenses.
But last year`s decision to add golf to the Olympic programme from 2014 has helped further spark interest in developing the sport, and its inclusion will see more government funding for the sport.
When the country`s formidable Soviet-style sports system joins wealthy parents in pushing young golfers, China could be a golfing force to be reckoned with in the future.