SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - Top American golfers need to think more about the honor of representing their country at the World Cup and less about appearance fees, according to Mission Hills Golf Club director Tenniel Chu.
The vast $1.5 billion 12-course club was venue for the 55th World Cup last week — the third year of a hosting and co-sponsorship deal that runs until 2018.
The field contained three top 10 players but Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was one of several players who said they hoped for a return to the days when the very best golfers, such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, competed.
One of the main obstacles preventing the highest level field from competing in recent years has been the quality of the United States team, despite the lure of a $5.5 million prize fund.
This year, world number 31 Nick Watney and 134th-ranked John Merrick were the American duo prepared to forego their Thanksgiving holiday. They finished seventh as Italy won the title for the first time.
Chu, whose father David built Mission Hills, believes the return of golf to the Olympics for 2016 might help, but the American players needed to think about their priorities.
“More and more players are discovering the concept of playing for the honor of your country,” he told Reuters in an interview in the world’s largest clubhouse.
“If the President’s Cup or the Ryder Cup was played in Thanksgiving week, the players would still show up.
“With other countries there was never an issue with sending their top players, and none of these players are receiving appearance money.”
“Year after year you invite the same target list and they have a million and one reasons (not to come),” he added.
“You want to look at them in the eye and say: ‘Is there not more to life than money? Will you really live differently if you have $100 million or $50 million?’
“But if they think they are doing the right thing for themselves and their countries — if they do think about their countries — then, okay, we just go our own separate ways.”
Chu is the public face of the opulent 20 square-kilometer golf complex, which the owners claim is the largest in the world.
The aim of the family is to make the World Cup of Golf a tournament to rank alongside the game’s biggest, and the club the “epicenter” of the sport in China.
“This is the new frontier for the world of golf and we at Mission Hills have been the gateway to it,” Chu said.
“If you ask anybody which club is doing the most to develop the game in China at all levels, they will immediately answer Mission Hills.”
China is certainly attracting plenty of attention from equipment manufacturers, course architects and the major golf tours.
The U.S. PGA sanctioned the first World Golf Championship (WGC) event in Asia at this month’s $7 million HSBC Champions, a tournament has been held in Shanghai for its first four years but is likely to move on after 2010 — perhaps to Mission Hills.
“My father was the critical person in assisting bringing the WGC event to China,” Chu said. “If you spent that much time and effort in lobbying to bring it to China, obviously the only fitting place to have it is here.”
Editing by John O'Brien