May
25
2015

Golf the new green opium

In the mid-nineteenth century, British imperialists fought two wars to keep open Chinese borders to the import of opium. Fast forward to the present day and an increasingly popular and equally addictive activity is taking hold of China.

This ‘Green Opium,’ as some journalists have dubbed it, was banned by the Communist Party in 1949 and the cost of the activity is still very expensive in China. Since 2004, 314 illegal sites have been opened with only a fraction being government approved,

One ‘hit’ will set you back an average of $150, with the effect lasting around four and a half hours with the number of users naturally hard to calculate due to its prohibition, however it is estimated that there will be twenty million by 2020.

Ok, enough metaphors. I am sure that you have guessed that the ‘Green Opium’ that has been eluded to, refers to the sport of Golf.

China – Golf’s White Knight

Despite Chairman Mao labelling it as a; “Sport of Millionaires” in 1949, China is portrayed as the shining light in the global golf industry. The list of prestigious tournaments in China including; HSBC Champions, BMW Masters and the Volvo China Open shows the advances that have been made.

Head of BMW Golf Marketing Magnus Wiese said; “Golf is not a mass event in China [in terms of spectators] like it is on other tours, but it is a quality audience.” An important footnote is that BMW sales in China have grown 5 or 6 times in the last ten years.

Giles Morgan, Global head of HSBC Sponsorship and Events, agrees that the demographic that golf engages with, accurately reflects the core principles of their customers. When you consider that the annual growth rate of golfers in China was around 25% in 2009, it is no wonder the world’s leading brands are flocking to this market.

Future of Golf in China

Overcoming these contradictions are important not just for the game of golf, but for China as a whole. The Chinese are unsure of their position in a post-Mao, newly capitalist economy, beneath an authoritarian political system. The lessons of golf’s integration could become the flagship example of how China continues to become more ingrained in the global economy whilst maintaining it's customs and identity. 

The good news is that ‘green opium’ is not “a poison that undermines our good customs and morality,” as a government mandate proclaimed in 1839. However, until the government accepts that it is no longer the “sport for millionaires” and can indent China more prominently on the world stage, the benefits will be definitively reduced.

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Author - @ro_northcott


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