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Rubenstein: Golf is the Esperanto of sports

Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship winner Guan Tianlang of China walks with Dustin Johnson and Tiger Woods during the 2013 Masters golf tournament


Golf has always been an international game, but this has never been more apparent than now. The PGA Tour's new 2013/14 wraparound schedule includes tournaments in seven countries, and that's not counting the $8,000,000 World Cup that will go next month in Melbourne, where many PGA Tour players will compete.

Players interested in the playing opportunities have traveled this week to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the CIMB Classic, an official PGA Tour event, is on. The tournament's purse is $7,000,000. Defending champion Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Ernie Els, Bubba Watson, and Rickie Fowler are in the tournament. So are Canadians Graham DeLaet and David Hearn.

Players from 15 countries besides the U.S. are in the field. The PGA Tour on its website lists these golfers under "International" players. For this tournament in Malaysia, U.S. golfers are also "International" players.

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The CIMB is the first of a two-tournament PGA Tour swing through Asia. The World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions goes next week at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai. Malaysia one week, and China the next. The PGA Tour has come a long way as it pretty much takes over the world; there's even been talk about the PGA Tour buying the European Tour.

Meanwhile, the PGA of America is contemplating moving its PGA Championship outside the U.S. The possibility has come up over the years, but never in as public a manner as now.

"It is far from a fait accompli that we are going to take the PGA Championship international," the organization's CEO Pete Bevacqua told Golf World recently. "When we sat down to map our strategic plan to service our members and grow the game, the question arose as to what impact it would have to take the PGA Championship to an international locale once or twice a decade."

These developments aren't the only ones that point to the expanding globalization of the PGA Tour and the game itself. The Masters has always looked internationally when inviting players. It invites the current winner of the Amateur Championship–known outside the U.K. as the British Amateur. The Masters along with the R&A started the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in 2009. The winner gets an invitation to the Masters.

That's how 2012 champion Guan Tianlang got into the 2013 Masters, where he made the cut. He was only 14 when he played, the youngest golfer ever to tee it up at the Masters. Tianlang is defending his title at this year's Asia-Pacific. The tournament begins Thursday at the Nanshan International Golf Club in China, deepening the focus on golf in Asia this week.

The Asia-Pacific has already showcased one future star in particular. Well, he's not a "future" star. He's making his way in a big way already. The 21-year-old Japanese golfer Hideki Matsuyama won the 2010 and 2011 Asia-Pacific championships, which got him into the 2011 and 2012 Masters. He turned pro last April and finished in the top 10 in both the U.S. Open and Open Championships. Matsuyama qualified on points for the International team at the Presidents Cup earlier this month.

The Asia-Pacific championship gets more television coverage than any amateur tournament, which means more than the U.S. and British Amateurs. The British started in 1885, the U.S. in 1895. The television coverage given to the Asia-Pacific speaks to the power and influence of the Masters and the R&A.

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It also speaks to the increasing emphasis on golf in Asia, which isn't surprising given that golf will be part of the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, where Gil Hanse is designing the tournament course. Architect Ian Andrew, from Brantford, Ont., helped Hanse prepare his proposal and will spend some time in Rio to assist him there. Here's a link to Andrews' entertaining and informative blog.

Henry Longhurst, that extraordinary golf writer–sorry, golf correspondent–for London's Sunday Times for 45 years, once wrote that golf is the "Esperanto," or universal language, of sports. It was then, when Longhurst was writing in the middle of the last century, and it's even more so now. Here's how Longhurst put it.

"Golf is the Esperanto of sport. All over the world golfers talk the same language – much of it nonsense and much unprintable – endure the same frustrations, discover the same infallible secrets of putting, share the same illusory joys."

Golf has gone global. It is indeed the Esperanto of sports, and getting more so.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein


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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association's first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada's Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round's on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf's Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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