By Nick Mulvenney
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's golf bosses have restructured the professional game in the country with a new "Greater China Tour," which will include a six-tournament circuit in place of the China Tour.
The China Tour was launched in 2005 with the aim of providing regular tournament golf for the country's professionals and, sponsored by Swiss watchmakers Omega, ran four events last year.
The China Golf Association (CGA) have replaced it with the Chinese Pro Golf Championships in a new five-tiered structure for 2010.
"I am glad to tell you the China Tour is not dead. It is still alive and even stronger," secretary general Zhang Xiaoning told the CGA's website (www.golf.org.cn).
"With golf entering the Olympic Games, from 2010 on the CGA will integrate golf events in China to create the Greater China Tour," he added.
"The Chinese Pro Golf Championship is a fourth tier event of the Greater China Tour, with total prize money of $200,000 to $1 million. The 2010 Tour will have six stages, starting in early April."
The return of golf to the Olympics from 2016 has been a great boost to the state-run CGA, which can now count on greater financial support from China's sports system but will also need to produce top quality players to eventually compete for medals.
China's top player is Liang Wenchong, who has won one European Tour sanctioned event, was the 2007 Asian Tour champion and is currently ranked 85th in the world.
The higher tiers of the Greater China Tour are likely to include the four events on the fledgling OneAsia Tour in 2010, the Luxe Hills Championship, the China Open, the China Classic and Shandong Gold Cup.
China will again this year host the WGC-HSBC Champions, which is co-sanctioned by the CGA, U.S. PGA, the European and Asian Tours, South Africa's Sunshine Tour and the Australasian
The $7 million event could move from its present venue in Shanghai after 2010, although it will probably stay in China at a venue owned by the Mission Hills club in Shenzhen.
(Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Peter Rutherford)