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Tycoon urges restraint in Chinese purse war
November 29, 2011

Golf tycoon Tenniel Chu has urged a cap on prize money in China to safeguard the sport's traditions after a sudden glut of mega-bucks tournaments threatened to spark an unseemly purse war.

He was speaking after an extraordinary month when players visiting China walked off with US$19.5 million in prize money, including golf's biggest winner's cheque, along with millions of dollars in appearance fees.

"The last thing we want is to blow up expectations, given the (recent) appearance fees and purses," Chu, whose family owns China's Mission Hills golf resorts, told AFP during last week's World Cup.

"China has deep pockets but the last thing we want to do is to raise financial expectations to levels which are non-proportional to tradition and established events," he said on Hainan island.

His alert is primarily aimed at Chinese golf's latest family empire, the Shis, whose unsanctioned Lake Malaren Shanghai Masters exhibition event caused shockwaves when it debuted a week before the WGC-HSBC Champions.

The Shis lured a bevy of top international players with a US$5 million purse, US$2 million of which was handed out to the winner, world number two Rory McIlroy—the largest first prize in the modern game.

Multi-millionaire property developer Jian Shi and his US-educated son Janson upset many with the timing of their event as it took some of the gloss off the sanctioned, US$7 million WCG-HSBC Champions, a focal point of the Asian season.

The brash new tournament in late October appeared out of the blue with little pre-publicity—yet it successfully grabbed international headlines and TV airtime, as well as raising eyebrows, with its lavish offerings.

According to sources, the Shis also splashed out an estimated US$20 million on appearance fees to attract the small field of 30 players, headlined by McIlroy and Lee Westwood.

Earlier in October, McIlroy, Westwood, Ian Poulter and Liang Wenchong took part in the Shui On Land Challenge, a week-long promotional event involving 18 holes played at various locations in China and Macau.

The new events put further pressure on the crowded Asian golf swing including the Chus' US$7.5 million World Cup, which despite heavy investment drew criticism from title sponsor Omega for its lack of star quality.

Next year, the Shis—who are seeking world tour federation sanctioning for the Lake Malaren event—plan to raise the purse to US$8 million or more, according to sources, putting it among the world's richest tournaments.

The one-upmanship among China's family golf empires is raising fears of a crass purse war in a country where the sport is largely played by government officials and the business elite.

The boom in glitzy tournaments on new, no-expense-spared courses also continues despite a 2004 central government moratorium banning provincial governments from sanctioning such land development.

Wary that a glut of exorbitant tournaments might bring derision from the global golf establishment and the wrath of Beijing, which fears the country's widening wealth gap, the Chus believe it is time for talks with their rivals.

He called for a meeting between China's powerful golf families to thrash out ways to reign in excess and prevent the autumn tournaments from clashing.

"We have to be seen to be fair to the golfing federations who put in so much effort and resources to bring these world-class events, which then clash with other exhibition events," said Tenniel Chu.

"We have to collectively find ways to help stimulate the growth of golf in China and Asia in the most systematic way, rather than go head-to-head with each other and stage untraditional exhibition matches which do not compliment the world federations," he said.

The Chu brothers own the Mission Hills brand in China and built the world's biggest golf complex in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong.

They also spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their five-star resort on Hainan Island, venue for the World Cup which was won by the USA team of Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland on Sunday.

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