Tributes have been paid to Keith Hardman, the former General Manager of Foshan Golf Club which has hosted all five editions of the Foshan Open, after he passed away at the age of 59.
The American played a pivotal role in setting up the Foshan Open in 2013, and went on to turn the Chinese event into one of the most prestigious on the European Challenge Tour.
Under his tenure the Foshan Open has grown into one of the Challenge Tour’s most lucrative tournaments and has become synonymous with innovation over the years.
In addition to introducing a Junior Pro-Am in 2016, an annual event which sees a selection of Challenge Tour players join forces with talented Chinese children over nine holes, Mr Hardman also brought in the Carabao Par Three Competition and the Long Putt Challenge this season.
The latter, which attracted hundreds of fans this year, saw European and Chinese professionals try to hole a 200-foot putt – Scotland’s Bradley Neil achieved the feat, much to the delight of the spectators.
Away from the course Mr Hardman also established a ‘Love Golf, Love Life’ initiative at Foshan Golf Club, which offered his golf club’s members high-quality dining and recreational facilities along with top level golf.
Mr Hardman, who became the General Manager of Foshan Golf Club in 2012 after working for more than 25 years across Asia, is survived by his wife and their four children.
“He was the heart and soul of the Foshan Open,” said Alain de Soultrait, Challenge Tour Director. “Ever since our first meeting together I knew he was a very special character. Not only was he a great person to work with but he also became a great friend of mine and all at the Challenge Tour.
“He was always trying to bring new ideas, was always looking for improvement, and he always made sure that the Foshan Open stayed at the very top of the Challenge Tour.
“Keith was an amazing man.”
“He was one of my favourite people – not only in golf and the sports industry but in life too,” said Simon Leach, European Tour China Director.
“I always enjoyed engaging with him on all levels and he was just an honest guy to me.
“The last time I spoke to Keith was when I met him on a beautiful sunny day after the last Foshan Open. He was happy and content.
“We had a casual talk, the last thing I said to him was thank you for everything you have done for me and everyone at this event - I told him that the Foshan Open was a model for everyone in golf.
“It's hard to take - I just hope he is being taken care of now.”
“He was a brilliant host,” said Jason Palmer, who won the Foshan Open in 2014. “The way he organised everything was outstanding and you could tell from the early days that he had very high aspirations.
“Anything he could do to make you feel at home he did. After my victory I had lots of media obligations to carry out, so it was looking like I might miss my flight home, but Keith reassured me that he would look after me and he made sure everything went okay. He always went above and beyond.
“He was so heavily invested into the club and the game of golf. After seeing him arrange a junior clinic you could see the joy and how much he wanted the children to become better people through golf.
“Everyone looked up to him and he will be sorely missed.”