England were due to play in the final grouping of the World Cup here in Shenzhen this morning alongside the American pairing and it had promised to be quite a contrast. On one side of the fairway were a couple of smart lads from the Home Counties decked out, rather resplendently, in matching outfits, while on the other were two of the good ol' boys from redneck country, where sometimes even the socks struggle to be colour-coordinated.
Even so, Boo Weekley and Heath Slocum have made something of an effort by both wearing belts with huge "USA" buckles, but still their match with Justin Rose and Ian Poulter was gearing up to be one of those collisions of cultures this tournament so desperately wants to differentiate itself.
Not that Mission Hills is failing in its pledge to provide something out of the norm on the professional golfing circuit. While the Olazabal Course they are using – in all they had 12 to pick from – could have been plonked in any hilly area, the staff and the spectators are uniquely Far East. If it is not the policemen who salute players, officials, even the press on every tee, fairway and green, then it is the fans who have not yet quite got to grips with the whole etiquette issue.
They noisily walk up pathways just as the players are in mid-swing, chat away on phones as putts are being struck, click on their video cameras as drives are being unleashed: in fact, how Colin Montgomerie did not go totally chicken oriental out there in the first two days is anybody's guess. (As it was, going into today's third round, the Scot together with Marc Warren, were on the same mark as England, just the one shot back from the Americans, who were on 14-under.)
But as Weekley acknowledged, "they do appreciate the good shots, especially those little caddies". The 34-year-old was referring to the young ladies in the red uniforms who are possibly the most memorable aspect of this staggering resort. In all, there are 3,000 of them, all female, all aged 18 to 25 and all living in a community on site. They receive six months' training before they are allowed to pick up a member's or guest's bag, but when they do they are ready to dish out more than just clubs and yardages.
Mission Hills' owner, Dr David Chu, realised his golf virgin countrymen needed education in the finer aspects of the game but also knew that the macho, hard-bitten businessmen attracted here would not take too kindly to being told what to do by other males. Hence the females and hence the prestige of these caddying positions. "They come from all over China when we advertise," says Carol Chu, who helps her billionaire father run the place, "and there are at least 10 applicants for every job."
That is hardly a surprise when one discovers that they are given intensive golf coaching as part of their employment as well. Indeed, of China's 20 touring women professionals, seven learnt their trade at Mission Hills. That is some ratio and only goes to highlight the Chus' influence on the game and, indeed, on sport in this country. Dr Chu was instrumental in netting the Olympics for Beijing in his role as strategic adviser and in an annual survey was recently named as the 16th most important figure in golf. Whispers suggest this development is not unanimously popular at national or local level, but what cannot be doubted is that the 12-year commitment has saved the World Cup.
What it requires are more days like yesterday when the foursomes whipped around, leaving plenty of birdies, bogeys, thrills and spills in their wake. It is a different style of golf, otherwise seen only in the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup or the Seve Trophy and one which requires the partners to compromise and trust each other. Poulter and Rose were perfection in spikes on their first nine, going out in a four-under par 32. "There was one stage when we were more under par with the one ball than we had been with the two balls on Thursday," Poulter said, before agreeing that they let it slip slightly in their 68.
It was back to the better ball format this morning, for which record crowds were anticipated. Of course, with four balls in play there is more incentive for the crowd to scream and shout. As if this lot need it.Reuse content