HAINAN, China -- Mission Hills never misses an opportunity to promote junior golf. Accordingly, Chinese amateur sensation Guan Tianlang will join World No. 1 Tiger Woods and two-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a Skills Challenge before the two established mega-stars head out for The Match at Mission Hills, to be held over the Blackstone Course here at Mission Hills Haikou on Oct. 28.
Guan, who made Masters history earlier this year -- competing as a 14 year old and making the cut on golf's biggest stage -- will join his idols in a Skills Challenge on the practice range, as part of the warm-up prior to The Match. All three players will demonstrate precision and technique by hitting targets placed strategically around the range, while simultaneously engaging with and passing along valuable tips to what organizers expect to be a massive group of aspiring young golfers.
Guan, a Guangzhou native, has been a regular at Mission Hills youth tournaments since 2008. Indeed, Mission Hills Haikou will host a two-day tournament for juniors Oct. 26-27 -- winners of the boys' and girls' events (in the 12-15 and 16-18 age groups) will receive their prizes from Woods and McIlroy after The Match at Mission Hills. The low gross winners, boys and girls, will qualify for the International Junior Golf Tour's Tournament of Champions in Grand Cypress, Florida, May 25-27, 2014.
Directly after the Skills Challenge, Woods and McIlroy will also conduct a clinic for the Chinese National Junior Team, many members of which will have competed over the weekend.
Admission to The Match at Mission Hills (and the Skills Challenge) will be free of charge for all spectators under the age of 18.
"It's pretty exciting for me to compete against Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in a Skills Challenge before they play The Match at Mission Hills," said Guan, who has become a golfing icon in his home country. "As the event is taking place in China, I hope to get some local support. I might have a chance because these are short targets -- I'm glad it's not a long-driving contest!
"It will be nice to see Tiger again because he has been very supportive, such as when we practiced together at this year's Masters. I haven't played with Rory before, but we had a nice chat at the Masters and he also offered me some good advice. Both Tiger and Rory achieved a lot of success when they were teenagers, so I always appreciate it whenever they offer advice."
Woods, recently named PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 11th time, was happy to accept the skills challenge and looked forward to reuniting with Guan.
"The skills challenge with Guan should be fun," said Woods, holder of 79 PGA Tour titles including five this year. "I'm really excited about his future and what he's doing for the profile of golf in China, so it's great he'll be a part of The Match at Mission Hills. I know we'll have a lot of junior golfers watching us that day and it's great that this has been added into the mix."
While the Oct. 26-27 Junior Series Tournament will be held on The Vintage Course at Haikou, the main event -- The Match at Mission Hills -- will be contested over the acclaimed par-73 Blackstone Course designed by Brian Curley. At 7,808 yards and littered with hazards, The Blackstone was named "Asia's Best New Course" by GOLF Magazine in 2010. It hosted the World Cup of Golf a year later, when the Irish team of McIlroy and Graeme McDowell finished tied for fourth behind American champions Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland.
Mission Hills expects an overflow crowd -- juniors and otherwise -- for the Oct. 28 match, which will be contested at stroke play.
The Oct. 26-27 junior tournament and Guan's participation represent another important milestone in Mission Hills' ongoing contribution to the development of junior golf in Asia. Having staged on its courses the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, Jack Nicklaus Junior Championship, Faldo Series Asia, ANNIKA Invitational, and Mission Hills Golf Series and Junior Tour, the club has fostered the growth of many of the region's rising golf stars.
"Junior golf development has always been a key component of our tournament schedule here at Mission Hills," said Tenniel Chu, vice chairman of the Mission Hills Group, which owns and operates 12 courses at its Shenzhen location, on the Chinese mainland, and 10 more here in Hainan. "We've hosted something in the region of 14,000 rounds of junior competition since 2006. Whenever there is an appropriate international platform, with golf legends on hand, we are determined to include junior golf elements, as we view these as both golf and educational opportunities for young players across Asia, North America and Europe.
"The presence of Guan Tianlang at The Match at Mission Hills will be very exciting for spectators and viewers. I know people will look forward to seeing him compete in the Skills Challenge against Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, and I'm sure both pros will be keen to make sure they beat a 14-year-old, even if Guan is exceptional for his age."
Mission Hills Group recognizes the connection between junior golf participation and course access. Accordingly, starting Jan. 1, 2013, Mission Hills announced that three of its courses would be accessible, free of charge, to all players under the age of 16 -- a move widely praised by the international golfing community, including the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.
"Mission Hills has also made a point of developing par-3 facilities -- the Stepping Stone and Double Pin courses here in Hainan, and the Zhang Liang Wei Course in Shenzhen," Chu said. "These are fun, beautiful courses in their own right. But short courses also acknowledged to be effective 'stepping stones' for players who are new to the game."
Mr. Hal Phillips