China wants to raise profile of golf in the country

The search is on in Chinese golf to find a Yao Ming or Tiger Woods to give the largely unknown game a profile with the emerging star likely to be a woman, a top official said Tuesday.

"A female Yao Ming may come first," said Zhang Xiaoning, chief secretary of the China Golf Association.

The China Golf Association and TaylorMade-Adidas Golf announced a three-year deal Tuesday under which the manufacturer will supply China's national golf teams.

"We hope that through the partnership with the CGA and China's national team we will soon see a new generation of Chinese golfing talent," said Dennis Allen, who heads the company's golf business in the Asia-Pacific region.

China has about 300,000 golfers who play at least once a week, Allen said, a tiny percentage of its 1.3 billion population. The figure rises to 5 million for golfers who play at least once every six months.

China's top male golfer is probably Zhang Lianwei. The top two women professionals are Zuang Ping and Zhang Na.

Golf is expensive in China, and the rules and etiquette of the game are largely unknown. A weekday round of golf at a moderately priced club can cost about US$125 (EUR96), Allen said. The price can be three or four times that much on the weekend, reports AP.

Like other largely western sports, the spread of golf in China offers enormous marketing possibilities aimed at China's rapidly growing middle class.

"I believe Chinese golf is ready to move to the next level and take off, said Cui Dalin, a vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee. "Today is a great day for the development of golf in China, a starting point."