HSBC Champions: Golf still an elitist pursuit in China

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washburnespngolf11122005-2.jpgby DAN WASHBURN

Sheshan International Golf Club, site of this week’s HSBC Champions tournament, is about an hour west of Shanghai — if you are lucky. The only way to get there from downtown is a start-and-stop ride along the Hu Ning “Expressway,” an overcrowded stretch of asphalt that cuts through a grim part of the city you won’t find mentioned in any tour book. Most spectators are bussed in and bussed out and never set foot outside the picturesque private grounds. And if you were part of that crowd on Thursday and Friday, it would be easy to draw this conclusion: China loves Tiger Woods.

In a nation of 1.3 billion, crowds are not hard to come by. But on a golf course? That’s something new in a country with only an estimated 200,000 people who play the sport, a country that didn’t have a golf course until 1984. The gallery following Woods for the tournament’s first two rounds easily topped 1,000. Some guessed it was closer to 2,000. That’s more than four times the number of fans who followed Ernie Els during the final round of the BMW Asian Open here in May.

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