Sport Comment: Golf’s authorities need to make a major shift towards the Far East

John Inverdale
DOZENS of naked Korean men watching women’s golf. Now there’s a first line that forces you to read on...

Let me explain – saunas here in Korea are places where men go to relax, sometimes for hours on end. They often have giant televisions, invariably showing sport. And if that sport isn’t baseball, it is golf, and more golf.

I’ve been over here immersed in rowing for the past week with the World Championships staged at a magnificent new £15m arena at Chungju, three hours from Seoul. Yesterday was a brilliant end to the week, with Britain storming to gold in the men’s eights, the first time we have topped the podium in this event.

But shrewd operators as the organisers are, the facility also has a golf course attached. Giant driving ranges loom over cityscapes. A gentle stroll through nearly 200 TV channels last night found six showing golf. And a quick look at the top 10 on the women’s world rankings finds four Koreans with Inbee Park the current world No1.

Admittedly the strength in depth in the men’s game isn’t the same, with Bae Sang Moon just sneaking in to the top 100, but the fact that this part of Asia is the new heartbeat of the sport is undeniable.

All of which poses the question about whether the golfing hierarchy are prepared to be innovative and bold enough to consider moving one of the major championships to the Far East.

The US PGA title is very much the runt of the litter when it comes to the four Majors – and as the season dribbles on to a climax that is far more about money than trophies, should the discussion at least not be had about rewarding the biggest growth area in the sport with a championship that will entice, if not force, all the best players in the world to attend?

The tennis authorities realised during the 1980s that they needed the Australian Open to be revitalised to maintain the global resonance of the sport, and they have achieved that with some of the greatest matches of recent years played out on the hard courts of Melbourne.

With three Majors in the US, golf still fights in some circles to assert its worldwide credibility. Seoul, Shanghai or Tokyo are just waiting for the opportunity to correct that imbalance.

Meanwhile, I must go for a sauna before heading back home after another hugely successful regatta for Britain, topping the medal table with two gold and three bronze. And as I sit in the harsh dry heat, I’m pretty sure I know what’ll be on the tele.