China ‘immature’ market for golf, World Cup sponsor says

China ‘immature’ market for golf, World Cup sponsor says

HAINAN, China – Agence France-Presse
China ‘immature’ market for golf, World Cup sponsor says

Matt Kuchar (R) of the US celebtrates with his teammate Gary Woodland at the 7th hole during the final day of the Mission Hills World Cup golf tournament in Haikou, China. AP photo

The future of golf’s World Cup was thrown into doubt during Sunday’s final round after the title sponsor labeled China “too immature” a market to restore the event to global standing.

Omega president Stephen Urquhart said he was unhappy with the strength of the field because only a token number of top players opted to represent their countries in the 28-nation team event.

And he said for the World Cup to become a respected tournament, it must be staged around the world like football, rugby, cricket and other sports declaring World Cup events.

“China is too immature a market to put the World Cup where it should be. It’s too early for China to support by itself a tournament on this scale,” Urquhart told reporters.

The stinging criticism is a blow for the tournament organizers, Hong Kong brothers Kenneth and Tenniel Chu and their Chinese government backers.

The Chus have poured in millions of dollars to build the five-star Mission Hills resort on Hainan Island in the belief it will become the “World Cup Headquarters” and stage the event until 2025 when their contract ends.

The World Cup was launched in 1953 but due to golf’s crowded schedule and the event’s permanent move to China in 2007, it is no longer viewed as a “must attend” and attracts a mixed field of top stars as well as players and countries new to the sport.

Urquhart denied Omega was planning to pull out of the event it has sponsored since 2007, which now takes place every two years to fit around the Olympics following the sport’s inclusion as a Games discipline from Rio 2016.

But he said: “This is the last World Cup in this format which we are committed to... I can’t say now that... in November 2013, we will be in this place or that place.”

The Federation of Tours and European and PGA tours have been in discussion with the Chu brothers and Omega during the tournament about changing the format to make it more appealing to players, a global audience and sponsors.

“The field is better this year, but we are not happy,” Urquhart said.

Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland yesterday claimed the United States’ first World Cup since Tiger Woods and David Duval lifted the trophy 11 years ago, beating tournament favorites Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell of Ireland.

Most top players, however, opted to compete in other tournaments that clash with the $7.5 million event, or simply ignored it.

Despite claims by the organizers that up to 120,000 tickets have been sold, only modest crowds have turned out during the Nov. 24-27 showcase.

“If a World Cup of golf is done properly, sold properly and packaged properly, no one would ever go and play in another tournament,” said Urquhart.

Kenneth Chu, the Mission Hills chairman, declared earlier this week the family was prepared to go it alone after claims surfaced that their main sponsor was considering pulling the plug.

The Chus said the original agreement was for Mission Hills to stage 12 editions of the World Cup -- and they vowed to honor the contract and complete the remaining eight events.