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24 May, 2015

Golf gains ground amongst Chinese professional women, housewives

By Liu Zhihua / Sun Xiaochen

Beijing, (China Daily) 2015-05-23 – Shenzhen resident Chen Xing is among the lucky ones whose job is also her passion.

The 40-year-old loves playing golf, and is the director of the club member affair department with Shenzhen Golf Association, an non-government organization that aims to promote golf among Shenzhen residents and beyond, and the only legal organization that can represent the Shenzhen municipality to take part in international golf association events.

More women on the fairways

There is an estimated number of 77,900 women golf players in China, which is quite a progress compared with a few years ago.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Chen’s job allows her to get to know and make friends with people whose jobs are associated with golf, or those who love playing golf, just as she does.

“Some people think golf is a sport meant only for men, but it is not. Women can play golf, and play just as well as men too,” Chen says.

Chen played golf for the first time back in 2001 with her brother, and fell in love with the sport immediately.

“Unlike other sports that requires fierce competition and great physical strength, golf is very graceful and gentle, and very lady-like,” Chen explains.

She played the game at least five times a week for the first three years after she started on it. Nowadays, she still manages to play at least once a week, even though she is busy with work.

Chen is among the fast growing population of women amateur golfers in China.

Women golfers make up 19 percent of the regular golfer population in China, which is about 410,000 in China, according to the 2014 Forward White Paper, or the 2014 China Golf Industry Report, released earlier this year by the Forward Management Group, a national leader in the golf industry whose business includes golf course design and construction, golf club management, and organization of golf events.

More women players

Even though they make up only a fraction of the total population of golfers in China, there is a total number of about 77,900 women players, which is quite a progress even compared with a few years ago, according to Beijing golf lover Shi Ting.

Shi, who is in her early 40s, is the captain of Beijing’s first non-professional female golfer team, the Mulan Women Golf Team, which was established in 2007.

She started playing golf in 2000, under the influence of her husband, but soon became even more engaged with the game than he was.

“The sport is very suitable for women, no matter how old they are,” Shi says.

“It is easy to learn,” she says, qualifying, “but difficult to play well.”

Even though the sport requires much less physical exertion than most other sports, it needs players to fully focus, and make same movements repeatedly throughout the game, Shi adds.

But that is also what she loves most about the game, she says.

In order to play the game well, a golfer needs to be relaxed, forget everything around him or her, and get absorbed only in what she or he is doing. This means the sport is not only good exercise for the body, but is also great for the spirit. It stills the mind, she explains.

“I play golf not to kill the time, but to enjoy life,” Shi says.

Shi so loved the game that she resigned from her job as human resources director with a large shopping mall in 2006, so that she could to go to the fairways whenever she wanted.

“I was crazy about golf at that time, and my whole heart was on the golf course,” Shi recalls, adding she continued to play golf one month and a half after giving birth in 2003.

“I just couldn’t bear to wait to play,” Shi says.

But there were few women golfers when Shi started playing the game 15 years ago.

As some of them often met on the greens, they hatched the idea of forming a team to meet often and play together. Now the team has more than 40 members, who get together to play at least once a month.

Shi noticed a slow increase of female players in the last 10 years, and a relatively quick increase in recent years.

Chen Xing, the director with Shenzhen Golf Association, observes Chinese golfers have been increasing quickly since 2003, and the increase in men golfers has contributed largely to the growth in the women golfer population.

As the men started playing golf, their wives, sisters and friends also got exposed to the sport, and it is good for husbands and wives to share a common interest, especially for housewives, Chen says.

Chen recalls that in the 1990s, among the few women who played golf, most were businesswomen, and they played the game to socialize with their male counterparts. Now, many play just to have fun.

The development of the Chinese economy has also contributed to the growth in the number of women golfers.

In the 1990s, it cost hundreds of yuan to more than 2,000 to play a round of the game. The price has increased little. Taking into consideration the drop in currency value and the increase in people’s income, the fees have actually dropped a lot, relatively, Chen says.

The number of women golfer teams in Beijing and other large cities has grown in recent years, according to Shi Ting, who often leads her Mulan team to play against other teams.

Chen is the captain of China’s first women golfer team, Jin’guo, which was established in 1997 in Shenzhen.

The team is named after a proverb which says that women are as good as men. It has more than 100 members from all walks of life.

What women lack in strength they make up for in flexibility, according to Chen.

The Mulan team is named after a famous heroine in ancient China.

More women on the fairways

Shi plays as many as 200 games a year, competing against both women and men, and has become quite famous for her skills and her passion among golf lovers nationally.

TV and broadcast stations routinely invite her to commentate on golf games.

Lin Peiqi, in her 40s, is among those who never cease to improve their skills. She started playing it about 10 years ago, and calls golf the “green opium” that has got her addicted.

She was exposed to the game by chance through a friend, and soon got fascinated with its gracefulness and good exercise effects, as well as the peaceful mindset it helps bring about.

Apart from learning from friends, she has also hired private coaches to teach her play.

Lin believes the body and its muscles have memories, and practice makes progress. To improve her flexibility, she practices yoga.

Golf has also changed her life, Lin says.

She used to lead an unhealthy life, including partying till late into night. But since she took up golf, she has gradually made new friends, and adopted a much healthier lifestyle. Now she goes to bed early and gets up early to play golf.

Like most women golfers, Lin pays great attention to her appearance on the greens, collecting hundreds of clothes and gloves to match to her mood and the course.

All of three women golfers agree that the majority of women golfers are in their 30s and 40s. They also believe that women who play golf instead of other sports have common personalities, such as being strong-minded, independent. They often also belong to a higher economic class.

Housewives make quite a large proportion of women golfers now, according to Chen Xing, the captain with Jin’guo team.

Game for all

But that is not to say only the rich can play golf. On the contrary, more people are able to do so because of China’s economic development, Chen says.

The sentiment is shared by Zou Huiwen, a young woman golf lover in Beijing. She says quite a few women golf lovers she knows are just office workers.

“Playing golf is not as expensive as some people think,” Zou says, adding that it costs only a few hundred yuan every time to play.

However, China still lags far behind when compared with the developed countries, where many ordinary people enjoy the game.

Li Xuelin, in her 30s, and a housewife in Beijing, first played golf when she lived in the United States in 2001. She returned to China in 2004, only to find few golf courses or women players.

The situation has changed for the better since 2008, but golf is still a sport for the minority in China, while in countries such as US and South Korea, it is very popular among the public.

Li also worries about the negative impact of the national crackdown on illegal golf courses, as some people may mistakenly associate golf courses with corruption.

Wang Liwei, vice-chairman of China Golf Association, points out that, after the clean-up, new regulations on the standards of golf clubs and detailed rules on course constructions will be issued to benefit the game’s healthy development in China.

He also says the association is determined to promote the sport in China, especially among women amateurs.