Dorman: There is no offseason on the PGA TOUR, and that's a good thing

2013-14 PGA TOUR season

The race for the 2014 FedExCup got underway at the Open, which marked the beginning of the PGA TOUR's inaugural wrap-around season.
November 13, 2013
By Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

The first real snowfall of the year blanketed parts of the lower 48 in the past few days, calendars in some places around the country say it’s already 2014 and the Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge was played Monday and Tuesday at Rio Secco Golf Club in Henderson, Nev., on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Golf people know what these things prove about the sport: there is no such thing as an offseason in professional golf. And, despite the misnomer that once characterized it in decades past, there is nothing at all silly – and never really was – about what used to be called the Silly Season.

Seriously. Notwithstanding the 3-Tour Challenge, once lumped in among the misnamed late season shows but a holdover that is actually an entertaining, if not important, event, there are serious competitions underway and important off-course developments taking place.

Out on the PGA TOUR, where it’s 2014 no matter what your old Daytimer might tell you, five players already have notched their first victories of the season.

In the case of Jimmy Walker, winner of the season-opening Open, make that the first TOUR victory of his career, and surely not the last. The following week the 2012 U.S. Open champion, Webb Simpson, won his fourth TOUR event, this one by six strokes at the Shriners Hospitals for Children. Ryan Moore, who opened the CIMB Classic in Maylasia with a bogey-free 63 at Kuala Lumpur Country Club, closed it with a birdie the first playoff hole to edge Gary Woodland for his third TOUR win. Dustin Johnson put on the new year’s most impressive power display, shooting 24 under to win the WGC-HSBC Champions by three strokes at Shanghai for his eighth TOUR win.

And in a compelling final round at Sea Island, Chris Kirk, a two-time winner on the Tour, got his second TOUR victory with a late surge at The McGladrey Classic.

That’s a pretty serious cast of characters in the winner’s circle and it almost brings 2014 up to date. Just in case you were still falling back from the whole daylight saving thing (has anyone come up yet with a coherent take on what we’re saving?) let’s cover off 2014’s biggest story yet: The China Tour-PGA TOUR China Series.

If the timing of the announcement two week’s ago at the WGC-HSBC Champions wasn’t tipoff enough as to its import, consider the potential ramifications of this partnership.

China, home to 1.3 billion, has been ramping up its golf feeder programs for the past decade. It accelerated the preparatory teaching efforts considerably in the past five years since the announcement of golf’s return to the Olympic Games. Now the China Golf Association (CGA) and the China Olympic Sports Industry have jointly announced the partnership with the TOUR in the creation of a 12-event series.

PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem was on hand for the announcement, as was Zhang Xiaoning, the head of the CGA. Just how long the partnership has been in the works was not clear, but the proximity of the March 2014 startup date to the Nov. 3 (2014 season) announcement made a little over a week ago is indication enough that it has been awhile in the making.

“We know from looking at the history of golf that the growth of the game is driven first and foremost by the development of elite players,” Finchem said at the Nov. 3 news conference in Shanghai. “Having the opportunity to grow the elite players ... will also translate into the acceleration of the growth of the game in China, which is in all of our interests.”

Dissecting the two sentences does not require an MBA. If one accepts the premises that growth of the game is driven by the development of elite players, and the PGA TOUR is the unquestioned developer and proving ground for the best players in the world, then this is another win-win proposition for the parties involved.

A recent piece on the growth of golf in China in the New York Times Sunday Magazine stated that young golfers are, for the first time since the 1958 opening of the government-run Shichuhai Sports School in Beijing, among the some 600 athletes who live year-round at the sprawling training site known as the “Cradle of Champions.”

The article also reported that HSBC has been working hand-in-hand with the CGA to host junior golf tournaments and underwrite golf teaching programs in primary schools that have thus far reached “tens of thousands” of Chinese youngsters.

Michael Dickie, a Scottish teaching professional based in China for the past eight years, conceded that number is negligible in a country as vast as Mainland China, but also was quoted, “No other country in the world is putting as many resources into golf as China. It’s unparalleled.”

No doubting that. China has seen the benefits of golf, and once that happens its larger vision is unimpeded by small obstacles. Remember, no less an authority than Mao Zedong banned the sport of golf as an elitist bourgeois pursuit in 1949, plowed the 150-some golf courses back into farmland, and went on to other, more pressing pursuits. As recently as 30 years ago, there were no golf courses in China. By 2004, some 170 courses had sprouted up, causing no small alarm inside the central committee, which resulted in a government ban on further construction.

Despite the still-in-effect ban, China now counts some 600 golf courses (the U.S. has 15,000). In a relevant but unrelated announcement on Monday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, said market forces would play a “decisive” role in the economy. Market forces and professional golf go together like a birdies and eagles.

Ang Lee, the Chinese film director who in 2005 became the first Asian to win best director at the Academy Awards (he since won his second in 2011) predicted this week that “in 10 years time, our market is bigger than the Hollywood market.”

Keep an eye on that. At the moment, China’s annual film market is $2.8 billion and Hollywood’s is $10.8 billion. And on this, different sports but similar focus. At the moment, China has two professional golfers – Liang Wen-Chong at 146th and Wu Ashun at 215th – among the top 300 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

A lot is happening in the world during the months that golf used to take some time off. There is no more offseason in the sport, and that is just fine for those who can’t get enough of it – which includes most who play it and watch it – regardless of country.

Nothing silly about that.

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.