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The Hong Kong Polo Team in Beijing.jpg

Polo Position


Equestrian entrepreneur Dave Savage of Asia World Polo has been instrumental in the sport’s return to Hong Kong

Polo Position


Equestrian entrepreneur Dave Savage of Asia World Polo has been instrumental in the sport’s return to Hong Kong

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Polo Position

March 6, 2019 / by China Daily lifestyle Premium

Image above: The Hong Kong Polo Team in Beijing

Dave Savage at the Jaeger-LeCoultre mid-season celebration

Dave Savage at the Jaeger-LeCoultre mid-season celebration

When you initially considered setting up a Hong Kong polo club, did you envisage it would take as long as it has? 

The Hong Kong Polo Team was founded out of our pure enthusiasm for the sport, towards the end of 2013, by Asia World Polo; we played our first friendly in November that same year in Thailand. At the time, we realised that because of the lack of polo facilities in Hong Kong, it was the only major city in the world without a polo club or polo team. I knew from the outset that this was going to be a long process, as I had heard stories of others who had tried and failed. It’s also a case of having to start from the ground up and win the hearts and minds, find the land, gain the support of the equestrian community and secure the funding. In our mission, #bringingpolobacktohongkong, the magic ingredients are belief, resilience and patience.

Tell us about the soon-to-open facility in Sai Kung. What can we expect? 

If we can find the funding or secure investors, the plan is to build an equestrian centre that not only caters to polo enthusiasts, but also to the wider community to genuinely make polo and riding available to all. There are already large numbers of people on waiting lists to join riding schools in Hong Kong, so I guess there will be a little demand.

How many horses would you keep there, and can you give us a sense of the facilities or setup? 

We plan to accommodate around 100 horses, a polo arena, stables, a riding school, and facilities for the Riding for the Disabled Association and other worthy charitable organisations that could benefit, such as disadvantaged children’s societies. We also plan to introduce a programme to retrain and rehome retired racehorses. 

For beginners, what will a lesson or clinic entail and cost? 

The great thing is these days you don’t need a string of polo ponies and an introduction from an elite member club to get started. If you can afford to rent a horse for an hour twice a month, or preferably once a week, you can not only learn to play polo, but also to ride and be involved in a wonderfully engaging and supportive community. We can help with directing you to polo clubs and clinics that train you. The average cost is HK$800 to HK$1,200 per hour. If you compare that to golf or sailing, it’s very achievable. Andy Leung – a member of our polo team – has started a beginners’ polo team with periodic training camps in Tianjin, and is recruiting new novice players and riders regularly from the local community. We also have the Hong Kong Polo Academy, based in Beijing, which can provide polo clinics, group lessons and introduction weekends. 

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Team captain Patrick Furlong prepares for a match

Team captain Patrick Furlong prepares for a match

Your aim is to make polo accessible for all. For someone with a modicum of sporting ability who has never played polo or ridden horses before, but has interest, how long do you imagine it takes them to learn? 

It’s fair to say that I had a modicum of sporting ability – I liked badminton, tennis, cycling, skiing and scuba-diving, but it’s also fair to say I wasn’t particularly good at any of those disciplines. And that’s my point; you don’t have to be good at a particular sport to enjoy it. We’re not all destined to be Olympic athletes, but polo and horse riding will certainly get you in good shape. I didn’t start taking riding and polo lessons until I was 40 and I played my first tournament before I was 41. Six months to a year is a good estimate if you train once or twice a week.

What’s the standard size of a polo pitch? 

A full-size competition polo field is around 140 by 300 metres, but we are planning for arena polo, which is about the size of a football pitch – around 100 by 50 metres.

Where does the Hong Kong Polo Team’s circuit take them? 

So far, we have played in Beijing, Tianjin, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, England, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. We have also been invited to compete in polo tournaments all around the world. We’ve fought our way to and played in eight tournament finals. Astonishingly, with nowhere to practice and no polo ponies in Hong Kong, I’m very proud to say that we’ve won five of those finals, including the highly regarded and coveted Singapore Polo Open title in 2016.

We have notable luminaries in the city like Raphael le Masne de Chermont, Aron Harilela and Kwan Lo, who have played polo for so long, but is there a leading or emerging female polo player in the city – an equivalent of the golf world’s Tiffany Chan? 

The wonderful thing about polo, as I said earlier, is that it’s an inclusive sport. Men and women can play at the same level – and even on the same team. On our team, Lynly Fong was voted Asia’s Best Female Player in 2016. We also have some new local, rising female stars coming up the ranks. For example, Jessie Chang was awarded Most Valuable Player at Polo After Dark in Hong Kong in November for her efforts in the Hong Kong Beginner’s Polo Cup in Tianjin. As a reward, she will be given an opportunity to play on the main team sometime this season as a wild-card try-out.

How dangerous is polo relative to showjumping or horse racing?

Polo is no more of a risk than other similar fast sports – probably less dangerous, statistically, than skiing, for example. If you fall off a horse while showjumping, racing or playing polo, the bruises are about the same.

Images provided to China Daily

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Game On


The historic Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling is a local and global jewel on the sporting map. It’s also, contrary to popular belief, the city’s most publicly used golf course. China Daily Lifestyle Premium tees up with club vice-captain William Doo Jr

Game On


The historic Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling is a local and global jewel on the sporting map. It’s also, contrary to popular belief, the city’s most publicly used golf course. China Daily Lifestyle Premium tees up with club vice-captain William Doo Jr

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Game On

January 16, 2019 / by China Daily lifestyle Premium

Image above: The HKGC’s Old Course


“We need facilities for local development that perpetuate the international image of the city. We are the only club that could host the Hong Kong Open. Where else can you hold 50,000 spectators?”
—William Doo Jr


William Doo Jr

William Doo Jr

Last November, British golfer Aaron Rai won his first European Tour title at the 60th Hong Kong Open, held at Fanling’s Hong Kong Golf Club (HKGC). With his win, the 23-year-old Rai may well have set off something of a global evolution – he is of Indian descent and, along with a group of newly emerging Indian players that includes Rookie of the Year Shubhankar Sharma, may be a catalyst for greater golf awareness and accessibility on the Indian subcontinent. 

At a time when increasing participation in the sport is the primary concern of all bodies running the game, the HKGC’s contribution is hugely significant. While raising awareness is not a term that sits symbiotically with a game many associate with elitism, expense and male domination, the HKGC has taken huge steps in encouraging more Hong Kong citizens of all ages to discover the pulling power of golf. 

The HKGC has much to boast about. There’s the heritage of the club, which celebrates its 130th anniversary this year; its European Tour rank points-winning Opens for men (who have included Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose) and, since 2015, women; and an ecosystem whose flora and fauna through conservation efforts comprise rare species and historic trees that naturalist David Attenborough could spend an entire BBC series documenting. And then there’s the club’s community outreach efforts and charitable work – it holds more than 200 events per year on behalf of the Community Chest and related concerns. 

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Constructed in 1911, the HKGC Clubhouse is a Grade II historic building

Constructed in 1911, the HKGC Clubhouse is a Grade II historic building

Despite all this, remarkably, the HKGC faces the threat of closure, as a specially commissioned Hong Kong government Task Force on Land Supply assesses prime sites to reclaim and develop in the city to alleviate the chronic public housing shortage. 

Naysayers accuse the HKGC of being ivory-towered, but the reality is different; the club has the highest public-use numbers of any golf course in the city. Contrary to popular belief, Hong Kong residents who are non-members can play at Fanling from Monday to Friday if they book in advance, at a discounted HK$1,100 for 18 holes. “More than 43% of the rounds have been played by non-members over the last few years,” explains vice-captain William Doo Jr. “In 2017, we had more than 120,000 rounds of golf, which means that more than 50,000 were played by non-members. We are extremely happy that the courses [Fanling has three] can be utilised by the general public.” 

It’s a modest investment in heritage, too. The HKGC is one of the oldest clubs in Asia and the first golf club in China. Its annual Open tournament is co-sanctioned by the European and Asia tours, and the likes of Greg Norman and Tom Watson have played its verdant fairways. Miguel Ángel Jimenez claims the HKGC has the “best ambience” of any club he plays anywhere in the world. Last month, Asian Tour players voted the HKGC the best tournament of 2018 and the best golf course. 

The HKGC Half Way House on the Old Course was opened in 1918 and is a Grade III historic building

The HKGC Half Way House on the Old Course was opened in 1918 and is a Grade III historic building

The HKGC hosted English golfer Tommy Fleetwood, American standout Patrick Reed and perennial Spanish favourite Sergio García at the 60th Hong Kong Open; all had played in the Ryder Cup three months earlier. “Past champions of the Hong Kong Open have gone on to become Masters winners,” says Doo, citing Rory McIlroy as an example. “And this year’s winner, Aaron Rai, a young Indian player, is really good for the sport. It was his first win on the tour.”

Youth, enterprise and innovation are all ambitions the HKGC has actively been targeting and promoting in recent years. “There are many youngsters playing at the club, from age six, and if you look at the development over the last 20 years, there are a lot more ladies playing, especially on weekdays,” says Doo. 

Leading the charge is Tiffany Chan, winner of the Hong Kong Ladies Open in 2016, who has since turned professional
and competes on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour alongside the likes of Lydia Ko and Michelle Wie. 

“She’s the first Hong Kong player to play in the LPGA,” says Doo, proudly. “It’s similar to Yao Ming playing the NBA.” He says Chan’s rapidly become a role model. “She’s a real inspiration to the younger Hongkongers. They all want to emulate her.” He also mentions Isabella Leung and Michelle Cheung as future local stars in the making. 

Protected and endangered species have been sighted, as well as more frequently seen species such as the common rose butterfly

Protected and endangered species have been sighted, as well as more frequently seen species such as the common rose butterfly

To further popularise the club, the HKGC has launched initiatives to “attract a younger audience and develop their stronger interest in the game.” The club works with the National Sporting Authority, providing a venue for free training for their members, some of whom are below the age of ten. Last May, the HKGC hosted the first Hong Kong Inter-Secondary School Golf Championship. Supported by the Hong Kong Schools Federation and the HKGA, the inaugural event included teams from 20 local and international schools throughout the city. Via the Inspiring HK Sports Foundation, which supports underprivileged youth in Hong Kong, a group of 25 students also enjoy weekly professional instruction by HKGC coaches at the club’s Fanling facilities. 

Doo believes the city should take pride in the HKGC’s wider contribution to the city. “We think there’s a need in the city for sports development,” he says. “We need facilities for local development that perpetuate the international image of the city. We are the only club that could host the Hong Kong Open, a European tour size event. Where else can you hold 50,000 spectators?” 

In short, Hong Kong lacks golfing facilities and driving ranges. Once numerous, they have been shut down to make way for more housing. Singapore has done quite the opposite. “They have a population of less than six million, yet they have 40 golf courses,” says Doo. “Yet Hong Kong, with a population of more than seven million, has only six or seven courses. So, if you want to compete with other cities in Asia, you can’t take away our courses. It leaves Hong Kong with no international capacity at all. How can we be Asia’s world city if that is the case?” 

Tiffany Chan plays at the EFG Hong Kong Ladies Open 2018, hosted at the HKGC

Tiffany Chan plays at the EFG Hong Kong Ladies Open 2018, hosted at the HKGC

It’s not just a golf course, either, but 172 hectares of land that support a rare ecosystem. The HKGC is home to 46% of the total number of old and valuable trees (OVTs) in Hong Kong. There are 409 OVTs at the facility and, of those, 114 are rare and protected species. The site is also home to a huge variety of birds, insects, reptiles, and other wildlife, including a resident colony of common birdwing butterflies – Hong Kong’s only protected insect species – and the globally endangered Reeves’ terrapin. Other at-risk species include the brown fish owl, the red muntjac deer, the Chinese water snake and somanniathelphusa zanklon (a freshwater crab endemic to Hong Kong). As such, the club takes families and children on nature trails to experience the rich biodiversity on its land. 

“The culture should be accessible to everyone,” says Doo. “We’re seeing greater numbers of younger people all the time. We have huge charity fundraising days in our club, and we give all the universities and Community Chest subsidised rates. For corporations, we have specific golf days to facilitate their business. We’re trying to strike a balance. Hong Kong needs a top-class, top-tier course to host international events and simultaneously allow the general public to have a very accessible facility.” 

Here’s to increased public participation, a great day out in nature for children and adults, and the next 130 years of the HKGC.


The Hong Kong Golf Club – At a Glance

  • The HKGC was founded in 1889. The clubhouse at Fanling was constructed in 1911 and is a Grade II Heritage Building.
  • The first Hong Kong Open was played in 1959. The HKGC and the Augusta National Golf Club in the US are the only two clubs in the world that have hosted the same professional tournament for more than 50 years.
  • Almost 50,000 spectators attended the 60th Hong Kong Open last December.
  • Each year, more than 120,000 rounds of golf are played on Fanling’s three courses and more than 50,000 of those are played by non-members. The HKGC has 68 ancestral graves and more than 74 urns located through the three courses at Fanling. Some date back to the Qing and Ming dynasties.
  • The HKGC is home to 46% of the total number of old and valuable trees (OVTs) in Hong Kong. There are 409 OVTs at Fanling.
  • Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan won the 2016 Hong Kong Ladies Open (the tournament was launched in 2015) as an amateur player. She has since turned professional and now competes on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) tour.

Images: Provided to China Daily

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Star for the Course


Feng Shanshan was the first Chinese golfer to join the LPGA – and the 28-year-old has since conquered the world

Star for the Course


Feng Shanshan was the first Chinese golfer to join the LPGA – and the 28-year-old has since conquered the world

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Star for the Course

April 6, 2018 / by Caroline Lam

When she arrived for March’s US$1.5 million HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, Feng Shanshan had the world at her feet. She was the top-ranked female golfer on the planet and had at that stage held that lofty position for a streak of 16 consecutive weeks. Feng was also plotting a course towards adding to her collection of 24 professional tournament wins so far, including one of the game’s Major events at the Women’s PGA Championship in 2012. Off the course, life goes on for the charismatic 28-year-old, too. Feng took time away from the game to share some insights into her life – and her love of karaoke and soap operas.


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What personal traits have helped you become a great golfer?

I think the traits that have helped me play well are being able to stay calm, be patient and have fun. I try not to let a good or bad round affect me, or if I win or lose. I just try to be happy and enjoy my time on tour. Golf is my career, but not my whole life, so it’s important to remember that.

Who has been the greatest influence on your career?

I would have to say my father. He’s been there throughout my life to support me in all of my decisions, but in terms of golfing, he was so influential on my development. He was so dedicated in getting me to the driving range every day after school, and at the weekend we would travel out of the city to a golf course to work on my short game. Once I’d made it onto the LPGA tour and started working with a full-time coach, Gary Gilchrist, my father was ready to watch and support me as a dad again, instead of as my coach or caddie.

If you could meet one person from history, living or dead, who would it be and why?

The late Arnold Palmer, because he was not only a great golfer, but also a successful human being. He had a wonderful professional career. At the same time, he did many things with his influence to popularise the sport of golf that are worthwhile for me to learn and follow. It’s such a pity that I will not have a chance to meet him.

What is it about playing a round of golf that you enjoy most?

I love the competition! Not just the people we play against in the tournament, but in terms of always trying to do better for myself, which is what I focus on more.

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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Stay patient. Mentally, it’s so important to not get ahead of yourself. Secondly, sleep well. If I don’t sleep well, I don’t feel right, so I make sure I get the rest my body needs.

Outside golf, what do you love to do?

I really like karaoke – and I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy watching soap operas.

What quality in a person do you most admire?

I love to laugh, so I enjoy it when someone is funny or has a good sense of humour.

What would be your dream holiday?

My dream holiday would be to stay at the seaside. Every morning, I could sleep as long as I like; anytime I open my window, I could see the sea; and I could do whatever I want.

Is there a particular type of music that motivates or inspires you?

There isn’t a specific piece that I like most, but I do like bright music with a strong sense of rhythm. I’m very serious on the course and have a bit of a poker face, but I think music helps me relax – and feeling comfortable is very important for me when I’m off-course.

What’s your favourite dish to cook and to have cooked for you?

I don’t get a chance to cook for myself much, but when I do, my favourite is omurice. It’s easy to cook – and yummy. Growing up, I used to love when my mother cooked soy-sauce chicken wings, but I also really like steak. When I found out I had become the world number one, I treated myself to a TGI Friday’s steak.

Image: Instagram: @shanshanfeng_golf (Feng Shanshan portrait)

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Teed-Off by Tortoises


Slow play has become the biggest curse of modern golf – and can drive the most dedicated players to tears of frustration as they wait for the group in front to saunter off the green. In the spirit of helping save the game from the fairway fidgets, here are some tips on speeding up play

Teed-Off by Tortoises


Slow play has become the biggest curse of modern golf – and can drive the most dedicated players to tears of frustration as they wait for the group in front to saunter off the green. In the spirit of helping save the game from the fairway fidgets, here are some tips on speeding up play

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Teed-Off by Tortoises

April 6, 2018 / by Bob Robertson

Faced with a tough club choice and a chance of snatching victory on the 18th hole of this year’s Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, American golfer JB Holmes dithered… and dithered again. In fact, by the time he finally hit his shot – dumping it in rough short and left of the green – he had taken no fewer than four minutes and ten seconds to ultimately decide what to do.

To put that in perspective, his dithering lasted 20 seconds longer than it took his fellow American, middle-distance runner Matthew Centrowitz Jr, to win the gold medal in the 1,500-metre final in the Rio Olympics – and the same length of time it took Hong Kong E-Prix winner Felix Rosenqvist to complete four laps of the 2.993-kilometre circuit.

By the time Holmes and his partners had walked off the 18th green, they had taken no fewer than six hours to finish their round. It was a performance that brought social media opprobrium down on his head, with former number-one Luke Donald tweeting sarcastically: “Anytime today JB…” 

When I was growing up in Scotland, a round of golf took three hours, but you could argue that the weather was a major incentive to get back to the warmth of the clubhouse as quickly as possible. Golf generally takes longer in Asia for various reasons – the sweltering heat in many countries is a factor, as is the modern design of courses, where there is often a substantial distance between the green and the next tee, coupled with the custom of having a refreshment stop halfway around the course.

However, none of these reasons is an excuse for some of the maddeningly slow play that we see on our courses every day of the week. So to help speed things along, here are my top tips on how to get around the course in a respectable time and still enjoy your game.

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1. Be prepared. Make sure when it’s your turn to play that you have chosen your club and are ready – nobody wants to wait as you dig around in your golf bag for a tee or a new ball.

2. Take one practice swing and one practice swing only; don’t swish the air half a dozen times like one of the Three Musketeers before hitting the ball – it won’t make it go any further.

3. You’re not Tiger Woods on the final green of the Masters – line your putt up quickly and get on with it. The longer weekend golfers study their line, the more likely they are to tense up and miss the hole.

4. Look where you hit the ball! It’s incredible how many golfers don’t follow where the ball goes and then have no idea where to look when they get to the landing area.

5. Okay, you technically have five minutes to look for your ball, but in a friendly game, give up if the grass is over your knees and it looks like a hopeless case. Balls really aren’t that expensive and your partner will thank you.

6. Park your golf buggy or trolley on the side of the green nearest to the tee. Don’t abandon it at the front of the green when you arrive and then waste time going back to get it.

7. Don’t mark your partner’s card on the green. Wait until he or she is driving off on the next tee.

8. Swallow your pride – you don’t need to play off the very back tees to prove your golfing machismo. If your group are not long hitters, choose a forward tee that makes life easier – and more enjoyable.

9. Agree with your partners before teeing off on some ways to speed up play such as: the first player to reach their ball plays first, regardless of who is furthest from the green; all putts within a grip length are gimmes; the first to be ready to tee off does just that, even if it does not respect the usual playing order; et cetera.

10. Don’t be a golf course boor – if the people behind you are playing faster, stand aside and wave them through.

11. As for that great story you just have to tell your partner before you drive off at the next tee – save it for the 19th hole. It will sound better after a couple of drinks, anyway.


Happy golfing!

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Live the Dream


An Alpine ski event like no other stealthily and spectacularly makes its way to St Moritz in February

Live the Dream


An Alpine ski event like no other stealthily and spectacularly makes its way to St Moritz in February

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Live the Dream

December 1, 2017 / by Ben Berg

“The action on the frozen ice of Lake St Moritz and its orchestration is much like a motion picture – and demands of such an extreme equine spectacle require abundant skiing prowess on the part of competitors”
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Conjure whatever image you can in your mind’s eye of a surreal trip of the most otherworldly kind, and it’s hard to better the stunning mountainous backdrop of the Swiss Alpine resort of St Moritz and its annual horse racing extravaganza of a most exhilarating kind. 

Every year, more than 30,000 spectators converge around the frozen Lake St Moritz for an event known as White Turf across three weekends – in 2018, it’s being held from February 3 to 18. There, they watch a series of races across the lake in a variety of formats. Horses are given special ice shoes to run in – and the ultimate crowd-puller is “skijoring”, invented in 1923, whereby riders don’t saddle up, but are dragged behind horses in four-wheel carriages or on sleds. 

Skijoring, derived from the Norwegian word skikjøring, which literally means “driving with ropes” or “ski driving”, ordinarily involves dogs such as huskies. But this 110-year-old White Turf spectacle draws a devoted group of adventurers and daredevils, who can be towed at speeds of up to 50km/h by riderless equines for 2,700 metres, making up what must be Switzerland’s (and global horse racing’s) flattest and most photogenic course, despite being Europe’s highest. There was talk of it at one time becoming an Olympic sport in the 1960s. Surrounded by the shimmering landscapes of the Engadine valley, it’s an utterly unique experience. Says Martin Staub, president and CEO of the event: “White Turf is world-exclusive.” 

That’s pretty much how all of the Engadin and St Moritz feels. The picture-perfect backdrop has formed the mood board for a great deal of cinema; the Engadin is like the Hollywood of the mountains. More than 200 films have been made there, with classic moments from Elizabeth Taylor driving her convertible across the Silvaplana in Rhapsody (1954) to Roger Moore’s turn in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) – one of the most famous sequences in the James Bond films, as he careens down the Piz Palü at breakneck speed on skis while trying to avoid three pursuing Russian soldiers. 

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Bond returned to the Engadin eight years later in the form of Timothy Dalton for a scene in A View to a Kill, where he fights, along with a cello, on Piz Scerscen. More recently, Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche became entangled in a tempestuous relationship on Lake Sils in Clouds of Sils Maria (2014). 

The magic of the Engadine continues to unfold in real life just as it does on-screen. The action on the frozen ice of Lake St Moritz and its orchestration is much like a motion picture, and depends on various factors. The demands of such an extreme equine spectacle require abundant skiing prowess on the part of competitors, and of course, total mastery of their four-legged friends. Given the nature of the event, there are strict regulations in place, with weather being the most determining factor of all. 

Races only take place on the lake when the ice measures 30cm thick. Despite the constant threat of global warming, mild conditions haven’t halted the running of White Turf since 1964. Many people are concerned about the horses and their safety, but to date, only one horse has ever died at the event in more than 100 years of racing, which makes White Turf the safest event anywhere in horse racing’s history. 

The horses are shod with specially spiked shoes to prevent them from tumbling. One unexpected and delightful upshot of their shoeing means that as they clatter and splice their majestic way across the surface, they kick up chunks of compacted ice and fresh snow, creating a scene not unlike an exaggerated, life-sized snow globe. It’s at those moments – amid the shouts, thuds and laughter – that time almost stands still in this astonishing mise en scène. 

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But the smooth, micromanaged nature of the event today is the result of so much work over the years on the part of organisers. In 1965, not a single skier made it across the finish line; reins became entangled and the thoroughbred horses shot off in different directions. As a result, skijoring’s equipment began to be standardised and coloured skis were made compulsory, so the horses could see clearly in the snow. 

It’s not just the safety of the horses that is paramount, but the people, too. Skiers (or “jockeys”) undergo stringent physical tests before the race. White Turf has attracted riders as famous as Lester Piggott in the past, but the event is open to amateur participants should they wish to enter. 

“We are very happy to have a constant demand of jockeys wanting to take part each year,” says Staub. In recent years, results on three racing Sundays during February have been combined and the skier with the most points is crowned King of the Engadine. To up the sense of eliteness further still, there’s even a White Turf Jockey Club and a small group of White Turf ambassadors. 

The event may be somewhat under the radar, but it does draw some high-profile association. Two long-standing sponsors of the event are Credit Suisse and BMW, whose participation actively promotes the social aspect. 

But while White Turf draws a niche group of jet-setters and partygoers – yes, there’s a VIP section for guests of the sponsors – the event is open to the public and to holidaymakers in the Swiss region. To watch the racing events, a seat (the stands boast 2,500) costs as little as US$100 – and for such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that seems a remarkable deal. 

It’s not all racing, either. For those looking for action off the ice, there are shows, art, exhibitions and food stalls. There’s also the elegant 130,000sqm White Turf tent, which serves up the superlative lifestyle experience. In 2014, revellers could even take advantage of a pop-up submarine bar that surfaced from the lake, serving champagne, brandy, sake, maotai and other libations. But it’s hard to believe one’s spirits could need any lifting in such a jaw-dropping location and with such a spectacle as White Turf.

Images: swiss-image/Andy Mettler

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China’s Ancient Game?


With the fairway beckoning, you tee up, take a practice swing and prepare to indulge in that classic Scottish game: golf. But does it really originate from there?

China’s Ancient Game?


With the fairway beckoning, you tee up, take a practice swing and prepare to indulge in that classic Scottish game: golf. But does it really originate from there?

Lifestyle > Sports


 

China’s Ancient Game?

October 27, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Image above: Patrick Reed of the United States plays his shot from the first tee during round two of The Northern Trust at Glen Oaks Club on August 25, 2017 in Westbury, New York

Ming Dynasty painter Du Jin  ’  s painting portrays women playing chuiwan in court, collected by the Shanghai Museum

Ming Dynasty painter Du Jins painting portrays women playing chuiwan in court, collected by the Shanghai Museum

The Scots may well have codified golf as we know it – including, after a few false starts, making it a game of 18 holes. But the jury’s still out on who first came up with the idea of an open-air game that involves using a stick to hit a ball towards a target. The Romans played a game called paganica, in which a ball stuffed with feathers and wool was hit with a bent stick, while the Dutch played a stick-and-ball game called colf as early as the 13th century. 

But the most intriguing – and in many ways convincing – documented evidence of an early version of golf comes from China. A game called chuiwan (捶丸) – chui meaning to hit and wan meaning ball – became popular in the Song dynasty (960–1279) and was featured in paintings as late as the Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Players used ten clubs to hit wooden balls towards brightly coloured flags – sound familiar? They had a club for long distances, a precursor of the modern-day driver, and the tee was called the ji (基), or base in Chinese.

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Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty at Leisure , collected by The Palace Museum, portrays the emperor playing chuiwan

Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty at Leisure, collected by The Palace Museum, portrays the emperor playing chuiwan

A mural painting of Yuan dynasty-era chuiwan is preserved on the wall of a Water God Temple in Hungtung County, Shanxi Province. The painting depicts a Mongolian official (on the left, wearing a fur hat), Han officials and assistants. The sticks and devices are fairly identical to those of modern golf

A mural painting of Yuan dynasty-era chuiwan is preserved on the wall of a Water God Temple in Hungtung County, Shanxi Province. The painting depicts a Mongolian official (on the left, wearing a fur hat), Han officials and assistants. The sticks and devices are fairly identical to those of modern golf

There was even an early equivalent of the R&A Rules of Golf: the “Wan Jing” (丸經) or “Classic of the Ball”, published during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). It lays out the rules, and places great emphasis on sportsmanship and correct behaviour – echoes of modern golf, where etiquette is such an important element of the game. There’s also a reference in an ancient book to a magistrate of the Southern Tang dynasty (937–976) telling his daughter to “dig holes in the ground” so he could hit a ball into them using a special stick.

The old imperial paintings show clubs bearing a striking similarity to modern golf equipment – long, narrow shafts with distinct heads for striking the ball. One depicts the Ming dynasty’s Emperor Xuanzong playing chuiwan on a course that’s clearly marked out with flag sticks and that looks identical to a modern putting green.

The game seems to have died out in China during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), while golf as we know it today was first played in Scotland in the 15th century. (It was even briefly banned by James II of Scotland in 1457 because it distracted players from learning archery – a skill required for the army.) The first rules of golf were drawn up by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Muirfield in 1744. Ten years later, the Society of St Andrews Golfers, the forerunner of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, was formed and became the governing body.

The debate over who got there first will go on as long as the game is played, but at least two things are certain. First, chuiwan, played by Chinese emperors 1,000 years ago, certainly qualifies as a royal and ancient game. And second, it was definitely the Scots who invented that other great golfing tradition: the 19th hole – that moment when you step up to the bar in the clubhouse and order a dram of whisky to erase the memory of the last putt that got away.

Images: Shanghai Museum; The Palace Museum; Andrew Redington/Getty Images North America/AFP

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You Spin Me Round


From disc golf to fast-action team games and even to dog competitions, flying discs have come a long way since their inventor, Fred Morrison, started selling his Flyin’ Cake Pans around California beaches in the late 1930s

You Spin Me Round


From disc golf to fast-action team games and even to dog competitions, flying discs have come a long way since their inventor, Fred Morrison, started selling his Flyin’ Cake Pans around California beaches in the late 1930s

Lifestyle > Sports


 

You Spin Me Round

June 30, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Flying discs (Frisbee is a brand trademark by Wham-O) have long been a great source of fun on hot summer days. But the humble plastic disc has gone high-tech, and Ultimate – a team game roughly modelled on American football, but with no player contact – is played competitively by millions around the world.

If you think a disc is a piece of simple moulded plastic, then think again. Pad Timmons is general manager of Discraft, whose UltraStar is the official disc of the national governing body USA Ultimate and the leading disc used by players around the world. Speaking from the company headquarters in Wixom, Michigan, he says the company has a “secret recipe” for making the UltraStar, similar to the secret recipe Coca-Cola uses to make its beverage. “It’s a fine-tuned piece of sporting equipment,” he explains.

The key is in the design and manufacture, which ensure the discs have a consistent flight pattern; Discraft now supplies its cutting-edge discs to 70 countries. Timmons says he has played disc sports for more than 40 years, designed 40 disc golf courses and won top disc competitions. He concludes, “Flying discs have been my life.”

While Ultimate is a team game played on a pitch, disc golf replicates the “royal and ancient game”, except that players swap their clubs and balls for specially designed flying discs that they try to land in a metal basket fixed to a pole. Timmons explains that players carry up to 20 discs in their disc golf bags. This includes long-range “drivers”, mid-range discs that are easier to control but don’t go as far, and “putters” – discs with a pronounced edge that can catch the chains in the basket. Like traditional golf, disc courses have nine or 18 holes.

Other competitions include freestyle, where players do tricks like spinning the discs on their fingers; disc dog, where dogs catch discs thrown by their human teammates; and Beach Ultimate. The discs themselves can come with special features – some glow in the dark, while UV discs turn purple in sunlight. There’s even the Disc Jock-e, produced by Tucker Toys, which connects via Bluetooth to iPhones and other devices, and plays streaming music as it flies. There’s also a market for collectible, limited edition discs with rare designs. 

It’s all a far cry from the humble origins of the flying disc game, when 17-year-old Fred Morrison and his girlfriend, Lucile Nay, playfully threw a popcorn bucket lid back and forth at a family picnic in California in 1937. They decided that Fred’s mother’s pie tins were easier to use, and were playing on a beach one day when a passer-by offered to buy one for 25 cents. The tin cost five cents, and, seeing a business opportunity, Fred launched his Flyin’ Cake Pan business.

After honing his knowledge of aerodynamics while serving in the US Air Force during the Second World War, he developed the business and marketed his Pluto Platter in the 1950s. Toy company Wham-O took over in 1957 and changed the product’s name to Frisbee. “I thought the name was a horror,” recalled Morrison many years later, though he admitted warming to it as millions of dollars in royalties flowed in. 

The sport is developing rapidly in Hong Kong, where around 150 enthusiasts play regularly in matches organised by the Hong Kong Ultimate Players Association. The association was created by expatriates 20 years ago, but now membership is equally divided between expatriates and Hongkongers, says association president Kevin Ho. Around 300 to 400 secondary school students are also playing Ultimate today, thanks to the association’s outreach programme. 

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What makes a great Ultimate player? “Being explosive and agile are the two most important things, because the nature of the game is predicated on being able to get free of your defender,” says Ho. “You need to be able to accelerate and run around in short bursts, and be able to jump high and far so that you can catch discs that are high up in the air.”

Many of the best players come from other sports such as football, basketball and volleyball, and apply their specific skills to Ultimate. The game matches two teams of seven players, and each squad has up to 20 members who are frequently substituted because of the amount of running involved.

In Hong Kong, the game is played on football or rugby pitches, and points are scored by catching the disc in the opposing team’s “end zone”. The first team to score 15 points wins, and if neither team has won within 90 minutes, then the side with the highest score wins. Unusually, there is no referee, so players are solely responsible for following and enforcing the rules, even at the World Championship level.

Ho says that the nature of the discs makes the game unique. “When you’re playing with a ball, you can only really throw it one direction, but with a disc you can make it bend and curl around defenders. That’s what makes the strategy completely different.”

Where does Ultimate go from here? Discraft’s Timmons says that the World Flying Disc Federation has just been recognised by the International Olympic Committee. “The hope is to get Ultimate into the Olympics,” he says. “It may not be too far off.” Flying discs at the Olympics? It’s enough to make your head spin.

Images: Discraft, Inc/Discraft; Wham-O; Disc Ace; Tucker International; Wikimedia Commons: Marco Consani/Creative Commons (Freestyle Frisbee handstand catch by Claudio Cigna); Wikimedia Commons: Wikotto/Creative Commons (English: Adrian Stoica & Rory, 2014: World Champions (UFO) and European Champions (AWI, UFO, Skyhoundz))

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Game Changer


Making golf simpler – and faster – with an overhaul of the rules

Game Changer


Making golf simpler – and faster – with an overhaul of the rules

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Game Changer

March 31, 2017 / by Bob Roberson

The rules of golf, first drawn up in 1744, have always seemed designed to make a difficult game even harder and more frustrating. Your ball bounces off a tree, flies back and hits you on the chest? A two-stroke penalty. You think your ball fractionally moved on the green, but you’re not sure? Yes, you should call a one-stroke penalty on yourself just in case. Confused about what to do in a given situation during a round? If you don’t find the answer in the actual rulebook, with its hundreds of rules and sub-rules, you can always try to find the solution in the accompanying 752-page Decisions on the Rules of Golf.

The bodies jointly responsible for all of this – The R&A and the US Golf Association (USGA) – finally decided that it’s time to bring the rules up to date and have announced a major overhaul. The reason, as if golfers didn’t already know: “The rules are complicated and their purpose isn’t always clear.”

It makes you wonder what they’ve been doing all these years. The good news is that the changes are designed to make the rules simpler and fairer, and should help speed up the pace of play. They include scrapping the penalty for being hit by your own ball, allowing you to keep the flag in the hole while putting, loosening rules about the order of play, limiting the number of strokes you can record on one hole, changing the way of dropping the ball and setting a time limit – 40 seconds – for you to hit your shot.

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Golfers have until the end of August to give their views via a survey posted on The R&A and USGA websites, which takes about ten minutes to fill out. Once the consultation period is over, the new rules will be finalised and come into effect on January 1, 2019. Hong Kong pro golfer and commentator Dominique Boulet, for one, welcomes the changes. “Simplifying the rules and speeding up the pace of the game is crucial,” he says. “The slow pace of play is a huge problem – I walked off the course after two or three holes recently because I’m not interested in taking four-and-a-half or five hours to play a game of golf.”

He says that slow play is a particular problem in Asia because often four beginners, with no real understanding of the rules or etiquette, play together. “In Australia, Britain or the US, you usually start off playing with established golfers, so you learn from them. But the culture is different here.” He adds that anything to simplify the rules will be good. “It’s amazing how ignorant 99% of players are of the rules. Even many pros don’t have a great knowledge of them.”

As the governing bodies move to speed up play, one of the proposed rule changes might make buying that high-tech golf ball tracker a great idea after all – the time you can spend looking for a lost ball is going to be cut from five to a scant three minutes. 

Image: The R&A and USGA

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Tee off, Tech on


From apps that instantly analyse your swing to customised Segways that speed you around the fairways and gizmos that find your lost balls, high tech is transforming the way people play golf

Tee off, Tech on


From apps that instantly analyse your swing to customised Segways that speed you around the fairways and gizmos that find your lost balls, high tech is transforming the way people play golf

Lifestyle > Sports


1. Korean American golfer Michelle Wie; 2-3. The Zepp Golf 2 device analyses all aspects of your game

1. Korean American golfer Michelle Wie; 2-3. The Zepp Golf 2 device analyses all aspects of your game

Tee off, Tech on

February 24, 2017 / by Bob Robertson

Huge advances in club design have already helped golfers hit the ball farther and straighter. Today, a whole range of new gear is changing every aspect of the game. For one, sophisticated swing-tracking technology that connects wirelessly to a smartphone app has made it possible to get instant tuition on the practice range.

One of the cutting-edge brands is US sports technology company Zepp, whose Smart Coach system works via a sensor attached to the back of your golf glove. When you swing, it tracks key factors like club speed, club plane, hip rotation and tempo, and sends the data via Bluetooth to the mobile app. The app instantly displays a 3D graphic of your swing, analyses it and gives coaching advice. Korean-American golf star Michelle Wie, who uses the device, says that “technology is definitely changing the game – it is definitely changing the way we practise” thanks to what she calls the “instantaneous feedback” it gives.

Once you’ve used this device to get your swing in good shape, another essential on the course is knowing how far you are from the pin so you can select the right club. That used to involve a lot of mental arithmetic, as you paced out the distance from your ball to yardage markers, and then calculated the distance to the flag. That all changed with the arrival of hand-held laser rangefinders, which give the distance with pinpoint accuracy. Today, GPS-based apps such as the free-download Hole19, loaded with maps of courses all around the world, can give the distances to key locations like greens and hazards.

 

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4-5. The Golf Ball Finder glasses by Thumbs Up help you find your ball

4-5. The Golf Ball Finder glasses by Thumbs Up help you find your ball

When it comes to getting around the course, forget carrying your own clubs, paying a caddy to do it for you or jumping in a golf cart with a friend – the Segway PT X2 Golf gives you the best of all worlds. With extra-wide tyres to avoid damaging the precious fairway turf, the Segway is fitted with a special attachment for holding your golf bag. Just lean in the desired direction and the electric-powered, self-balancing “Personal Transporter” will speed you to your ball, all the while giving you a feel of the terrain that a golf buggy cannot.

Of course, all the technology in the world won’t prevent you from hitting the inevitable bad shots, which send your ball flying off into deep rough or trees. However, all isn’t lost – the tech experts have worked out some clever ways to retrieve your ball. One of the highest-tech solutions is the Prazza Golf Ball Finder, a smartphone-sized handset developed in the Netherlands that tracks a microchip embedded in the brand’s specialist golf balls. To find your ball, just follow the direction of the arrow in the display; a graphic of a ball gets bigger as you get closer, accompanied by quickening beeps and vibrations.

If that’s a bit too high-tech, you can always try the wraparound Golf Ball Finder glasses produced by Thumbs Up, a manufacturer of quirky gadgets. The brand says that the blue lenses illuminate everything white, so there shouldn’t be many hiding places for your errant ball.

Armed with all this technology, you should be ready to maximise your potential on the golf course. But don’t forget that one golden rule – when you pull out your smartphone to check how your swing is looking or the distance to the hole, the only thing you aren’t allowed to do on the golf course is make a phone call.

Images: Segway Inc., ©2017 Segway Inc.; Thumbs Up UK; Zepp Labs

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6-7. The Segway PT X2 Golf redefines the traditional golf cart

6-7. The Segway PT X2 Golf redefines the traditional golf cart

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Getting into the Swing


Fancy taking up golf, but don’t know where to begin? Avail yourself of our advice on taking those first tentative steps on the fairway

Getting into the Swing


Fancy taking up golf, but don’t know where to begin? Avail yourself of our advice on taking those first tentative steps on the fairway

Lifestyle > Sports


 

Getting into the Swing

December 9, 2016 / by Bob Morris

Before you start, there’s one thing to always remember about golf: it’s not fair. If you keep that in your head, then you might just avoid throwing your brand-new titanium driver into the lake after you whack your first tee shot into the club carpark, or refusing to shake your opponent’s hand when he or she has just fluked a winning shot, or (heaven forbid) letting out a stream of expletives and kicking your golf bag in full view of the clubhouse when you duff a chip shot.

Golf is the most maddening and the most difficult game. It’s also rewarding, sociable, challenging, physical (without being too physical), great for networking and played in some of the most beautiful locations on the planet. The handicapping system also means that even a mediocre player can have an enjoyable, competitive game against an accomplished professional. 

The game of golf is a constant battle against yourself, your opponent, the terrain, the elements and plain luck. One day it all comes together and you’re Tiger Woods at his peak – and the next you feel you’ve been struck by some primeval curse from the angry gods of golf and just want to give it all up. And the terrible thing is that not even the best players know when or why that will strike.

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The idea, of course, is simple – hit a ball into a hole with a stick, in as few shots as possible. Do it 18 times and the person who takes the fewest shots goes home the winner. But how to get started? There are three fundamentals: arranging lessons, buying clubs and finding a good place to play. Oh, and let’s not forget the clothes. 

The good news is that most club pros are available to teach non-members. The bad news is that you are about to be confronted with the weird language and contradictions of golf. In the first lesson, you’ll learn that the most important thing is your grip – how to hold the golf club. Once the pro finishes showing you, you’ll feel like your hands have become an amorphous mass of 20 competing fingers. Then there’s your posture:
“Imagine you are sitting on a high stool.” “Keep your back straight.” “Bend your knees – but not too much.” “Align your feet with the line of the shot.” “Lift your chin.” “Look down your nose at the ball.” Every professional has their pet phrases and gimmicks to get you started. 

A lot of it feels counter-intuitive, because it is. When you take your first clumsy swing and the club bounces off the rubber mat a foot behind the ball, your teacher will utter the words that have dogged golfing beginners since time immemorial: “You lifted your head.” 

When it comes to equipment, the technology has advanced to the stage that it’s much easier to quickly reach an acceptable level of play than in the old days, although the beginner faces a bewildering selection of clubs – and terminology. The basic rule, though, is that you can’t buy a golf game. So forget splashing out on the most expensive, high-tech gear at the start and ask your pro to recommend some user-friendly, medium-priced, beginner-level equipment. Once you discover the strengths and weaknesses of your game, you can trade up. (And yes, you have to buy your clubs – renting them is like wearing someone else’s cast-offs.)

Finding a place to play is relatively simple, although most courses demand a handicap card, which is a classification based on your average scores that shows your ability as a golfer. And despite its exclusive, clubby image, golf is relatively egalitarian; many countries have reasonably priced public courses and most private clubs allow non-members to play at restricted times. 

And then there’s the final hurdle to becoming a golfer – getting through the front door of the clubhouse. If you think you can rock up with your cool T-shirt hanging out over a pair of designer jeans and trainers, forget it. Most private clubs have strict dress codes, although, golf being golf, none of them are usually the same – so what is accepted in one club won’t necessarily work in another. Likewise on the course, most clubs
expect you to tuck your golf shirt into your “tailored” shorts, keep your socks pulled up and wear proper golf shoes. It can seem irritating and outdated, but as you’ll learn with all things in golf, rules are rules.

Finally, etiquette is fundamental to the golf ethic. Bad behaviour on the course will get even the best player shunned by his or her fellow golfers. So here are ten dos and don’ts for that first full day on the course. Happy golfing!

  • Do say “good shot” to your opponent, even if it hurts.
  • Do help your opponent look for their ball, even if you secretly hope they lose it.
  • Do replace divots and rake bunkers after playing, even if you can’t be bothered.
  • Do shout “fore” if your ball is heading towards someone – it just might save their life.
  • Do resist the temptation to tee off before the slow coaches in front are out of range.
  • Don’t ever throw your club – you might not get invited back.
  • Don’t moan – nobody wants to hear it.
  • Don’t ever cheat – not even a little bit.
  • Don’t fidget and move around, even if your partner takes forever to putt.
  • And don’t lick your ball clean – you never know what they put on the grass.