MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- Among the 3,091 golfers playing the Golf.com World Amateur Handicap Championship this week, eight were from China. They were the so-called Chinese Delegation, and they were ferried to their appointed rounds in a van with a driver who knew the roads and a translator who spoke perfect English. Still, they were often late.
Understandably so. This gang of eight was making its first trip to the Grand Strand. You might come for the golf, but at some point Myrtle's other charms are going to suck you in. Where else are you going to find neighboring hotels with names like Hotel Blue and Buzzard's Roost and mini-golf courses with names like Jurassic Golf and Professor Hacker's Lost Treasure? To say nothing of the many, many stores that sell no item over $7.99.
"The comment I heard the most was, 'We need more time for shopping,'" said the group's translator, Jane Zhang. She is a Chinese-educated physicist who lives here, and when she began her gig this week she knew nothing about golf. Then she watched her charges drop $12,000 at the PGA Tour Superstore. Now she knows: Golf is an addiction that needs no passport.
Thursday night, the Chinese Delegation was on the stage at the Convention Center here, getting souvenir coins from the mayor of Myrtle Beach, John Rhodes, himself a former assistant golf pro. He handed each of the eight what could double as a gigantic ball marker with the seal of the city on it. The golfers gave the mayor little Chinese bows and tentative American handshakes.
They were, in varying degrees, a skinny bunch, but in Myrtle Beach the Chinese golfers were loading up on ice cream and French fries and various libations. Still, after a week in America, they remained skinny.
There was a lone woman among the eight, Y.E. Qiaobo, a winner of three speed-skating medals at the '92 and '94 Olympics, in the height of the Bonnie Blair era. Now she's nearing 50 and has turned herself into a sort of glamorous figure with long black hair and perfect teeth and an emerging golf game. She's been playing for three years and she can make a bunch of pars. She claimed to have had three helpings of ice cream on Thursday. She did not claim to have made any holes-in-one.
After the presentation of the city coins, a subset of the delegation retreated to a loading dock where they sat on folding chairs and talked about their visit while convention workers on break smoked cigarettes in the muggy late-summer air. One of the group was Min Yang, a Chinese PBR distributor, who was one of the sponsors of the group. The pony on his Polo shirt was so big you could have cut it off and taken it for a ride. (On Tuesday night, he presented the mayor with a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon 1844, which costs $44 per bottle. The mayor said it didn't look like the PBR he grew up drinking.)
Winsen Qian Yong Shen, in a pink shirt and lime-green pants, looked like Webb Simpson on an ordinary day at the office. He wore his collar up. His name, I was told, means, "Always wins money." He did not know about Webb Simpson. Or Nick Faldo. Or Arnold Palmer. He knew a lot about Tiger Woods. And he had heard of Jack Nicklaus. "The Golden Bear," he said.
"The Golden Bear?" repeated Dr. Zhang, the translator.
Jack Nicklaus's nickname, I said.
"Jack Nicklaus?" she said.
"The Golden Bear," I said.
"The Golden Bear?" she repeated.
None of this is going to be easy.
I asked Winsen if he had heard of Donald Trump. He had not.
Right about then, Mayor Rhodes joined the group.
"Mayor Rhodes, could you explain to your visitors who Donald Trump is?"
He said, "Donald Trump is a very well known investor. He may not be the best investor. But he is a very well known investor."
Winsen, through the translator, said, "Why are you asking about Donald Trump?"
I explained that Trump was actively buying and building golf courses, that he was bullish on the game, just as the Chinese were. I told the Chinese Delegation what Trump once told me, that the game will take hold in a major way in China because golf is a great gambling game and the Chinese love to gamble.
Winsen smiled at this and, in nearly perfect English, said, "The whole world loves to gamble."