World Golf Teachers Treated Royally In China
Neil Diamond bellowed that, from around the world, they’re coming to America. However, on this day, professionals from the World Golf Teachers Federation were coming to China. As Geoff Bryant, who began it all in 1989, observed the gathering of men and women from fourteen countries, I asked if he ever envisioned that it would come to this. “Never in my wildest dreams,” he replied. I could only imagine his jubilation in seeing an organization so diverse in human beings smiling, laughing, and sharing in the passion that is teaching the game of golf. Yet, this was a competition, and even though we all know that compared to the professional golfers of the world we are not in their class, on our level the play is serious, hard fought, as well as friendly.
As I boarded the Air China jet in San Francisco with my two companions, Geoff and Charlie Whitney, distributor of the SwingRite golf training aid, I had no idea what to expect on the other side of the world. It would be my first venture to a location that was, for me, a complete mystery. What resulted was an eyeopening experience for which I will always be grateful.
We arrived in Beijing and had to hustle to our flight for the final destination of Shanghai. Unfortunately, not all of our bags moved as quickly. They would arrive the next day safe and sound. Our gracious hosts arranged for pickup at the Shanghai Pu Dong Airport, and the fi nal leg of our 30-hour adventure was a twohour ride to the Sun Island Resort on the River Mao.
Greeting us were the directors of USGTF-China, Toby Tse, Steve Mak, Quincy Tam, and David Wong, who quickly whisked us to their headquarters for some spicy Chinese noodles. The noodles were great; the spice however, was something my sensitive digestive system could have done without. After some pleasantries, it was off to our condos for a good night’s rest.
Sunday was a day to relax a bit and sightsee. We ordered up a taxi and headed to what was referred to as the ancient river city. Getting there by cab was a bit hair-raising. There appear to be no rules for taxi drivers as we darted in an out of bikes, scooters, pedestrians, and small animals. Head-on or with the flow, it did not matter. Just a blast on the horn and get out of my way, I’m coming through. Red lights seemed only a distraction unless there were cars actually coming through the intersection. I thought Charlie was going to leave a puddle on the seat a couple of times. Of course, I was calm as a cucumber, having observed only the slightest of dents in our worthy mode of transportation. We did arrive at our destination no worse for wear and began our trek through the ancient buildings of a city much like Venice, with canals and Chinese gondolas. I’m sure there is an offi cial name for them, but they looked like gondolas to me. There were row upon row of shops, restaurants, candy stores, and food vendors hawking their wares, like tourist areas in any part of the world. I bought a few trinkets for my wife and daughters, and then it was back to the hotel for another good night’s rest.
Monday was practice-round day and our first exposure to the tournament course. I would say it was a typical resort course, well-groomed with plenty of bunkers, water hazards, and large, undulating greens. The fairways were soft, yielding little roll, and the greens were fi rm and fast. It would be a good test for any skill level.
After an enjoyable day, the evening activity was the welcome dinner hosted by the Chinese USGTF group. Quite a reception it was, with traditional dancers and singers while we feasted on duck, chicken, fish, steamed vegetables, noodles, and rice. The mood was festive as we made new acquaintances and visited withold friends from previous World Cups. Then, it was time to get serious, bed down, and get ready for the tournament ahead of us for the next three days.
The fi rst day of any tournament has a certain feel. The atmosphere is a little more tense as players go about their preparations: The thump of wedges loosening up muscles young and old; the clink of balls propelled off driver heads the size of tree trunks. And, in the middle of it all, there I was with relics of a bygone era – woodshafted clubs from 1920 and sporting my plus-fours as any proper gentleman golfer of the Gatsby era would.
The Chinese players and caddies were fascinated with my equipment and balls as several gathered to watch my warm-up routine. Unfortunately, I was soon to find out that competing against the likes of TaylorMade and Callaway with wooden sticks and old bones was like, as they say, doing something in the ocean.
Overall, the course played very long for me. I hit the ball well, but the soft fairways limited my distance, and I was unable to reach many of the greens in regulation. That left me with some difficult up-and downs, of which I executed poorly. Throw in a few dumb double-bogeys and an even dumber triple-bogey and you have someone who f nished in the middle of the pack. The thing about golf is there is no one to blame but yourself. I knew it would be tough playing with hickory clubs, but that is how I choose to play, because it is what gives me the most pleasure, and in spite of my struggles, I still had a great time. I played with some wonderful people and made a slew of new friends, and in my book that is what counts most.
Regarding the tournament itself, the Chinese players dominated. They handily won the team competition and will hold the World Cup for the next two years. The American team was a dismal last. I blame the default captain – me. Default, meaning no one else wanted the job. I guess my pep talk failed to inspire the troops, except for Geoff, who shot a fine 79 in the final round.
My congratulations go out to everyone who participated. It was a fantastic experience that I will always remember. I also have to commend everyone associated with the operation of the event. It was wellorganized, and Steve, Quincy, Toby and David were right on top of things. Considering the number of different personalities from all over the globe, my hat is off to them for running such an international event as smoothly as they did. The closing ceremony was equally as impressive as the opening, with a feast fit for a king, and as the evening came to an end, a hearty three cheers rose from the crowd, saluting our gracious hosts. As we all exchanged farewells and wished each other safe journeys, I had to pause a moment in realization that this group, the World Golf Teachers Federation, has much to be proud of, and there is much more to come.
The next morning, Geoff, Charlie and I were off to Shanghai for a couple of days sightseeing before heading back to the States. I was unprepared for the immense sprawl of buildings and humanity as we checked into our city dwelling. The sheer size of it boggles the mind. There were mass quantities of everything under the sun for consumption, and that was what people were doing: Buying, dining, talking on i-Phones, driving high-end autos, and acting like capitalists. It surprised me!
As I said earlier, this was an eye-opening journey, because what we are told is something different. I’ve seen communism up close. I was in East Berlin during the cold war, with no people on the streets and soldiers on constant patrol. This was none of that in China, not even close. What I really observed is what I fi nd common in most places where I have been throughout the world, which is that regular people are just that – regular. But, enough on that, because this is a golf story, and once 1.5 billion people discover the joys of the game with the help of our Chinese USGTF members, look out. So far, they are doing just fi ne.