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The head of the European Tour said Monday that China's ruling Communist Party banning its members from golf should be seen as a "positive" step for the game's growth in the world's most populous nation.
The Tour's new CEO, Keith Pelley, said the decision to introduce new rules on clean governance, which banned "extravagant eating and drinking", "improper sexual relationships" and "playing golf", would help change perceptions of the game in China.
"It was an incredibly positive decision, an incredibly positive move by the Chinese government and one that was incredibly supportive of the game," Pelley told AFP on the sidelines of the HSBC Golf Business Forum in Shanghai.
The ruling Communist Party has long had an ambivalent relationship with golf, which has been a lucrative opportunity for local authorities and a favoured pastime of some officials, but is also closely associated with wealth and Western elites.
Pelley believes the latest announcement simply reinforced the belief that golf is a game for working people and not a preserve of the wealthy elite.
"Eighty percent of the working class in China is who that announcement was targeted to and who actually want to participate in the game of golf," said Pelley, who has been the European Tour's CEO for just 10 weeks since taking over from George O'Grady.
- Asia's potential -
Pelley admitted the announcement had initially taken him by surprise, with the European Tour holding two of its "Final Four" series in China this week and next with the WGC-HSBC Champions and the BMW Masters both in Shanghai.
"When the announcement came out I went, 'Oh, my word. What is this?'," said Pelley.
"But within about an hour we heard from our people on the ground here that this will be seen from the people of China as a support to the game of golf."
Pelley added that there had been no slowdown in the building of new courses, despite widely publicised closures of 66 illegally built facilities in March this year as part of President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive.
"They're committed to building 5,000 golf courses here for the public," Pelley added of the vast country that currently has around 600 golf courses. A decade ago there were fewer than 100.
"If you catapult ahead in five to 10 years we will be having a completely different dialogue about golf in China. Asia has significant potential to grow and China will be a key part of the future of the game."
Mike Whan, CEO of the Ladies PGA Tour (LPGA), said the announcement had not stopped Chinese businesses coming forward to get involved in golf.
"From our point of view, since the news came out we've had two more title sponsor prospects surface (in China)," said the head of a tour that already stages seven events a season in Asia, with one in China.
"I don't think it is going to hinder the interest of Chinese corporations who want to use golf from a business perspective and showcase their country."