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    • PGA TOUR China's inaugural season set to start

    • Mission Hills Golf Club's Sandbelt Trails Course will host the inaugural event on the China Tour-PGA TOUR China Series. Mission Hills Golf Club's Sandbelt Trails Course will host the inaugural event on the China Tour-PGA TOUR China Series.

    HAIKOU, China -- The China Tour-PGA TOUR China Series is ready to kick off its inaugural year with the Mission Hills Haikou Open, set for April 17-20 at Mission Hills Golf Club’s Sandbelt Trails Course.

    The 72-hole event begins the 12-tournament PGA TOUR China Series schedule that will take players across China, with the season culminating at the Tour Championship in November at a to-be-determined site. The purse for the Mission Hills Haikou Open is 1.2 million RMB (or approximately US $200,000), with the winner earning 216,000 RMB (approximately US $35,000).

    Many of the players in the Mission Hills Haikou Open field are already well acquainted with the Sandbelt Trails Course, which hosted the Series’ second qualifying tournament in March.

    One of those players is Alex Hawley, the Sandbelt Trails’ qualifying tournament medalist. He shot rounds of 72-71-66-70 to finish at 9-under 279, good for a four-shot win over fellow Australian Ray Beaufils.

    “I showed to myself that I could come up here on my first time to China and play well and feel comfortable playing on these types of courses,” Hawley said. “So, yeah, it’s very satisfying. It’s massive for my confidence. I’m glad I can play somewhere, and China is very good. I’m looking forward to it.”

    The medalist from the first qualifying tournament is another Australian, David Lutterus. He also cruised to a four-stroke victory, in Shenzhen, at the CTS Tycoon Golf Club. Like Hawley, Lutterus, a Web.com Tour veteran, is anxious for the PGA TOUR China Series’ season to begin.

    “I’m excited for the year and excited to play in China,” said Lutterus. “I’m looking forward to the start of this Tour and hopefully getting into the top five.”

    The five top money-winners at the end of the season will earn 2015 Web.com Tour cards, a setup identical to what’s offered to NEC Series-PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and PGA TOUR Canada players.

    “We’re thrilled to be at this point, where after months of careful planning this TOUR becomes reality,” said Greg Gilligan, Vice President and Managing Director of the PGA TOUR China Series. “All of our players are anxious to play world-class competitive golf and further their careers. What the players and our supporters will find at all 12 of our 2014 tournaments are first-class golf courses and infrastructure that is sure to make this first season a success.”

    Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat was impressed with what he’s seen already.

    “Every professional wants to play the PGA TOUR, the biggest TOUR in the world. The Web.com Tour is one of the steps, and I’m ready to take that first step,” said Pittayarat, who earned his playing privileges by recording a top-five finish at the first qualifying tournament. “China’s a big country, and it’s giving us the chance and opportunity to play golf. To play professional golf out here is a good thing, and I like it.”

    “I like the greens at [the Sandbelt Trails Course], and I like the golf course overall. It’s tough when the wind gets up, but in the last few holes, 14 through 18, they’re very difficult and you have to be very focused,” Hawley added.

    Hawley has indicated he intends to play all 12 events this season, a campaign that will be broken into two halves, with the first five tournaments running from April to early June. Following a two-month hiatus, the Series hosts its final seven tournaments.

    While the PGA TOUR is no stranger to China, having co-sponsored the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and the ISPS Handa World Cup in China, this is its first foray in guiding an entire tour, something of which Mission Hills Group’s Vice Chairman Tenniel Chu is happy to be a part.

    “It is wholly appropriate that Mission Hills should be the venue for this first tournament. For more than 20 years, we have been the pioneering force in China’s golf development, bringing world-class players to our courses while at the same time implementing the biggest and most comprehensive junior programs of any club in the world,” Chu explained. “Our continuing commitment is illustrated by the fact that three of our 22 courses are kept open to juniors free of charge, all year round. We congratulate the PGA TOUR and the China Golf Association on their bold initiative in launching the PGA TOUR China Series.”

    The Sandbelt Trails Course is a venue built in the style of many Australian courses in that country’s sandbelt region. It is situated amid Haikou’s lava-rock formations on this island just south of China’s mainland. The Sandbelt Trails Course is one of 10 18-hole courses designed by Schmidt-Curley at the Mission Hills Haikou complex.

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