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China Tour seeking boost from Tiger Woods

China launched a new domestic golf tour on Tuesday hoping to find and develop top players of the future from among the growing number of its people taking to the fairways.

The China Tour, set up by the state-run China Golf Association and World Sports Group, will not offer pots rich enough to attract top foreign talent but should give around 100 professional Chinese players a chance to make golf a living.

"There was a need to find a place for China's golfers, not necessarily the world's golfers, to ply their trade," Nick Mould, senior vice president for Singapore-based World Sports Group, said in Beijing.

The tour's opening 2005 season would feature four events, starting with a $100,000 tournament in August in Beijing and expand to at least 10 events with $200,000 purses in 2008, Mould said.

While China is hosting a growing number of lucrative international tournaments, including five events on the 2005 European Tour, and drawing some of the biggest names in golf, previous attempts to start tours in China have fallen flat, leaving Chinese with professional dreams few places to go.

"It has been nearly impossible for so-called professionals to really make a living playing golf here," Mould said.

The few Chinese golfers who have made it as pros, such as Zhang Lianwei, who became the first man from China to win a European tour event when he took the 2003 Singapore Masters by a stroke from Ernie Els, have done so on the international scene.

The new tour was not aimed at the likes of Zhang, Mould said, but at unknowns who could become big names and at the swelling ranks of fans and amateurs.

There were already around 280 golf courses in China and the number was set to explode, Tim Maitland, a media consultant for World Sport Group, said.

"This is a grain of sand on a beach compared to where it will be in the future," Maitland said.

If all goes well, a women's tour could come next, Mould said.

"If women do hold up half the sky," he said, borrowing from the late Chairman Mao Zedong, "there should inevitably be a tour for women in China."


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