Worldwide Economic Meltdown has China Tour Reeling

The fifth year of the China Tour will not expand to 10 events as planned, but organizers say that given the global economic downturn just maintaining the schedule at eight tournaments should be considered a success.

Nick Mould of World Sport Group said the tour, which was set up by the Chinese Golf Association (CGA) and tees off again this week in Xiamen, had retained its title sponsorship deal with Omega, although the Swiss watchmaker had to scale back their investment slightly.

"I think it's proven that no part of society is insulated (from the economic downturn) and that includes sport," said Mould, World Sport Group's East Asia president. "However, there are parties who will try to honor contracts that they've supported for a long time. Omega is a case in point for us, they've been with us for three years. We want to stay with them and they want to remain, and that's good news.

"We're looking at a slight contraction in what they're able to invest. Obviously we will endeavour to keep the tour going in the right fashion but tightening our belts in what we deliver event-wise."

Mould said plans to add to the tournament schedule this year had been put on the back burner due to the economic downturn, but was happy not to be looking at cutting events.

"You'll probably see eight events this year, as we had last year," he added. "To be frank, we wanted to be at 10 for 2009. But if we can do eight at basically the same level, in the current climate, that would be a success."

Mould said he thought the tour had already started delivering with the success of Liang Wenchong, a winner on the Asian and European Tours, and the likes of Wu Ashun, who finished fourth at the Asia Tour's Thai Open this month. "We've said all along, 'Guys, if we think we're going to succeed tomorrow, we're fooling ourselves.' "

"(But) Wu showed at the Thai Open there are golfers coming through," he added. "I think Liang is now established and . . . we had three Chinese entries at the Thai Open and they all made the cut. I think if you look at some of the kids we've seen over the last couple of years, I'd like to think there is now a genuine belief that China can produce golfers who can compete at the very highest level."

Wu will be in the field at the Orient Golf and Country Club this weekend for the one million yuan ($146,200) tournament, which is sponsored by computer manufacturers Dell, whose China operation is headquartered in Xiamen.

Mould is delighted by the association with Dell, also the tour's computer systems and monitors partner, but said in the long term that China needed its own large companies to get involved in sponsoring events. "Undoubtedly there is an appetite for sport here, the key issue is going to be the level of investment domestically from Chinese corporations," he said. "Are we going to see the Bank of China, China Mobile and so on, having a greater understanding of what it means to invest in and around sport?

"Because at the moment, if one looks around, there is still a much greater weight to the foreign entities investing into sport here and that has to change at some point."

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