Golf's future course heads from Europe to Asia

Crazy Golf

The wheel turns in professional golf as it does in life.

Last week the prominent agent Andrew "Chubby" Chandler was reeling after losing his "star" client Rory McIlroy. This week he is back on the horse and in Shanghai, breakfasting with the cream of young Chinese golfers and trying to add Asia's next golfing superstar to his roster.

In the eyes of many 20-year-old Noh Seung-yul, currently ranked 93rd in the world, poses one of the biggest threats to McIlroy's hopes of dominating professional golf for the next decade. But from where Chandler is sitting the talented but virtually unknown (outside of the cognoscenti and of course his golf-mad homeland) Korean is the embodiment of a modern golfing truism. "Asia is where it is to be in this game, it is where it is all happening. We in golf need to recognise that and embrace it," he says.

Casting around the Sheshan International golf club, venue for the HSBC Champions tournament which starts on Thursday, it seems Chandler need have no worries. The heavy hitters of the professional game – agents, players, sponsors – are here in force and have been for some time.

Lee Westwood, McIlroy and Ian Poulter arrived in China three weeks ago to take part in a week-long, cross-country exhibition match (eight courses, seven cities, a total of 18 holes) for which they each picked up a fee believed be at least $500,000 (£312,000). They have been here in Shanghai since – long enough for Westwood to pick up a few phrases of Mandarin, for McIlroy to collect the $2m winner's cheque (the biggest in the sport) at the Shanghai Masters on Sunday and for Poulter to become evangelical about Asia's status as golf's emerging powerhouse.

"In a purely golfing sense they have some amazing talent. I played with Noh last week and he is a seriously, seriously awesome player. A tall, slim kid who hits it 330 yards off the tee – watch out when he gains a bit more experience playing against the world's best players," the Englishman says.

If current trends are anything to go by, Noh will get all the experience he needs and he won't have to travel too far either. This week the caravan has stopped in Shanghai. Next week it will arrive in Singapore. Between now and the end of the European Tour season in December there will be five more events in Asia.

"I used to say in five years' time there will be more European Tour events in Asia than there will be on continental Europe," says Chandler. "I now think that will happen in three years. The shift is happening that quickly." That shift isn't just reflected in the scheduling of the European and US PGA Tour (which last week staged an event in Malaysia) it is also reflected in the priorities of the biggest names in the sport.

While most of the world's top players are in Shanghai this week, Tiger Woods has slipped into Singapore, where he is reportedly doing some corporate work on behalf of a Las Vegas-based casino company. Like everyone else in the sport, the former world No1 is gravitating to where the money is to be found. Chandler explains how the economics work.

"What we have now is a bunch of golfers who are willing and able to travel to Asia. You have companies here that are booming, an economy that is growing between seven and 10% a year, you have a growing middle class and a growing interest in golf. Put all of those things together and you can see why we are seeing more and more tournaments in this part of the world," he says. Contrast all of that with what is happening in Europe, both in the broader economic sense and in the world of professional golf. "How can a company that is, say, English possibly justify putting up two or three million pounds to stage a golf tournament when they are laying people off? They can't," says Chandler.

The upshot will be fewer events in Europe – an inevitability that is met with differing emotions on the range in Shanghai. Poulter is one of those who believes golfers should embrace their world as it is and not as they would like it to be. "It would be good if, say, there were a couple more tournaments in England but that's not going to happen right now, is it. So let's get on with it."

The Englishman's insouciance is not universally shared, at least not by Thomas Bjorn, one of continental Europe's best ever players. "From a personal point of view I'm always happy to come to Asia. The courses are good, we are treated very well and the prize money is good," says the Dane. "But I'm worried about the effect all of this will have on the game in Europe. If we don't have tournaments in certain European countries how are we going to generate and maintain interest in golf?"

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Lawrence Donegan in Shanghai, for The Guardian on Wednesday 2nd November 2011 15.26 Europe/London

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