China's national Open returns to the capital city of Beijing next month with a strengthening commitment from title sponsor Volvo to further grow the Championship and expand the game across the world's most populous nation.
The 2006 Volvo China Open will be played from April 13-16 at the Nick Faldo-designed Beijing Honghua International Golf Club, with Volvo raising total prize money to a record US$1.8 million, a massive US$500,000 increase from last year.
Beijing, which will host the Olympic Games in 2008, is the historical birthplace of the Volvo China Open when it staged the inaugural event in 1995 but the last time the tournament was played here was eight years ago.
Mel Pyatt, President and CEO of Volvo Event Management, said that this year's event will also see the expansion of the pre-qualifying process which will now be open to players from Hong Kong, Macau and Chinese Taipei. Last year, a total of 177 players from mainland China featured in pre-qualifying.
A total of ten places into the main field, an increase by two spots, will be up for grabs at venues in Shanghai, Beijing and Dongguan this year. Pyatt believes the qualifiers will contribute towards the continued success of the Volvo China Open as well as complement China's golf development plans to unearth more home-bred champions in the mould of Zhang Lian-wei, the country's most successful golf export.
"We are truly excited to be returning to Beijing next month," said Pyatt. "It was in this great city that history was made some 11 years ago when Volvo and the China Golf Association joined forces to launch the first Open Championship of China.
"From humble beginnings when the Volvo China Open initially offered total prize money of US$400,000, we have now grown by more than four folds and also became the first event in China to be jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and The European Tour.
"Eleven years ago, we believed and supported the future of golf in China through the launch of the Volvo China Open. Since 1995, we have committed millions of dollars to golf in China and believe that the exceptional growth witnessed now in this country is due very much to our endeavours."
Pyatt noted that in 1995, there were only eight courses across China then but the number has now grown to more than 200 courses. "This is a tremendous yardstick on how golf has grown since we launched the Volvo China Open."
He added that Volvo was in for the long haul with the China Golf Association to develop golf through the national Open, which has in the past unearthed great Chinese players in the form of Zhang, Chen Jun and most recently Liang Wen-chong. Chen won the Volvo China Open in 1997 while Zhang triumphed in 2003.
Volvo also recently entered into a five-year agreement to stage the Volvo China Junior Golf Championship with the China Golf Association in a move to aid its development programmes.
"Our vision towards golf in China is multi-pronged. One of our main goals is to maintain our efforts to place the Volvo China Open as one of Asia's most prestigious championships," said Pyatt.
"In the same stroke, we also have a responsibility to develop the game here and through the Volvo China Junior Championship, this exciting event will provide the platform for young and aspiring stars to emerge.
"Our expansion and commitment to grow the pre-qualifying process for the Volvo China Open is also very important. We want to ensure the China Open remains open to Chinese players and last year, we were rewarded immensely when 16-year-old Su Dong qualified to play in Shenzhen Golf Club. Hopefully, the taste of competing alongside some of the best players in the world will further inspire the likes of Dong and other young golfers to excel," said Pyatt.
Richtone Worldwide Managing Director Alistair Polson, whose company is the event promoter, said the Volvo China Open will cruise to Shanghai Silport Golf Club in 2007 and then back to Beijing at the CBD International Golf Club in the year of the Olympics.
Shanghai Silport staged the championship for six years running from 1998 to 2004 while the highly-rated CBD International will host the Open for the first time in 2008.
"The idea behind moving the Volvo China Open to various parts of the country is to build on the growing interests in the game here. Now that we have elevated the Volvo China Open into a truly world-class event, we want the Chinese people to fully embrace this great championship and help make it a greater success," said Polson.
A total of 156 players will feature in next month's Volvo China Open, which was won last year by England's Paul Casey.
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