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GOLF
Tim Rosaforte
November 20, 1995
The China Syndrome
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November 20, 1995

Golf

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The China Syndrome

Fred couples and Davis Love III should have been the happiest of campers on Sunday evening. After all, at the 41st World Cup of Golf at the TPC at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China, they had just picked up their fourth straight team title in a 14-shot landslide over Australia and half a million dollars in prize money, as well as a reported $50,000 each in appearance fees. But shortly after the awards ceremony, the two players were acting a little cranky. At an immigration checkpoint on an 80-mile superhighway that connects Shenzhen with Hong Kong, the Americans, pushing their way to the front of a long queue, were asked if they would consider another visit to China.

"Not likely," said Love, who won medalist honors in a five-hole playoff over Japan's Hisayuki Sasaki.

Such sentiments were shared by most of the other 31 two-man teams that took part in the first major golf event held in a Communist country. Players had no complaints about the course, a lavish Jack Nicklaus oasis built by peasant hands. Nor did they get too huffy about the Mission Hills hotel, which, because it is still under construction, has some rooms with no electricity, running water or mattresses. Their ire stemmed mostly from the behavior of the throngs of novice Chinese spectators. Many oblivious onlookers, thinking gallery ropes marked where the players were supposed to hit their shots, meandered with competitors across fairways, into bunkers and onto greens. One mother sent her four toddlers into a bunker to play and was perplexed when a marshal told her this was inappropriate. Also nettlesome were the incessantly ringing cellular phones and pagers. "It was like playing in some awful commercial for AT&T," said Canada's Rick Gibson.

The last straw, though, was the stolen balls. Frank Nobilo of New Zealand and Sam Torrance of Scotland were each penalized two strokes when their balls were stolen from the middle of fairways. France's Jean Van de Velde was spared such calamity by his playing partner, Mark Roe. "I saw a couple pick up Jean's ball," said Roe, "and I shouted at them to put it back. They just didn't know what they were doing."

Someday China will probably host another major championship, but for now the world's best pros are happy that the '96 World Cup will be held in South Africa.

Holding Up the Honda

The word mitzvah can mean a good deed or charitable act, which is what Honda Classic officials were hoping for when they asked Jeffrey Sarrow if he would mind a golf tournament's intruding on his son's March 9 bar mitzvah at Weston Hills Country Club in Fort Lauderdale. Sarrow decided that, yeah, he would mind. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why the PGA Tour event will be played at the hated TPC at Eagle Trace next year.

It's a complicated story. The Honda was played at Eagle Trace from 1984 to '91, but the players always disliked the course. After Greg Norman made derogatory remarks about "carnival golf" in 1991, embarrassed sponsors moved the event to Weston Hills. It was supposed to be played at the new TPC at Heron Bay in 1996, but excessive rain disrupted the construction of that course and forced the Honda to go back to Weston Hills and ask for a year's extension. Weston Hills agreed—if two bar mitzvahs could be cleared from the club's schedule.

One of the families agreed to reschedule, but Sarrow, an attorney and a member of the club who said he had arranged for the bar mitzvah almost two years in advance, said he could not relocate on such short notice. The Honda people claim they offered to provide Sarrow's guests a police escort through tournament traffic to a special parking area manned by valets and, when that didn't fly, asked if Sarrow was interested in a financial settlement. He reportedly asked for $75,000.

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