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No Clear Wins Yet for China's Golf Development

Neil Haworth, a chief architect with Singapore-based golf course developer Nelson & Haworth, has been quoted saying 2012 is a comeback year for golf development in China after it shakes off the crush of regulations.

One golf-related firm that might already be in an American investor's stock portfolio is Hyatt (H), which runs hotels at country clubs in China. It operates a hotel at the 27-hole Regal Riviera Golf Club in Jing Jin City and sells packages to the Westlake International Golf & Country Club in Hangzhou, for example. Hyatt share prices are edging up as income grows on hospitality demand since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Back in the equipment shack, American gear seller Callaway (ELY) is flirting with some of its lowest share prices since the early 1990s, before tumbling almost for good in 1998. A chief executive who took over in March is trying to turn the company around.

Could China help? The company that started its China division four years ago now has about 100 outlets and annual turnover of 100 million yuan, the official China Daily newspaper reported last year. China's overall golf market was worth 3 billion yuan per year in 2010, the newspaper says.

China Daily also calls Titleist the most popular golf ball brand in China. When sports clothier Fila Korea (081660.KS) agreed last year to buy the brand, its share prices jumped (they have come way down since then).

A positive spin on golf should also lift business for the likes of Rio Tinto (RIO.L) or Sumitomo Titanium (SUMA.MU). Both make titanium for the heads of golf clubs and have seen steady share prices post 2009.

Add to these the standard big-name makers of shoes, shirts and bags. Sports equipment is already expected to enjoy a boost from China's No. 2 performance in the London summer Olympics.

But traps loom in the way of China's golf development. The country has produced no globally known legends to serve as role models -- as Taiwan's 23-year-old Yani Tseng does for younger athletes in her homeland or as ex-NBA star and Chinese national Yao Ming does for basketball fans in China.

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