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Arnold Palmer's Chinese chip

The green actuality of it all is still $7 million and two years away, but a cultural revolution worthy of the name has come at last to the People's Republic of China.

We've speaking, of course, of golf. In particular, the golf course to be designed by Arnold Palmer for the Yongmo Hot Spring Resort near Canton -- the first golf course ever to grace the 3,691,502 square miles of China.

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Arnie says the topography, the soil, and the weather are ideal. Coming from a kid who mowed his father's fairways in Latrobe, Pa., that's good enough for us. Still, we can't help wondering exactly how the Chinese Pebble Beach or Winged Foot, or whatever, will shape up.

Is Arnie going to lay out what golf architects call a "penal" course, with heavy punishment for the errant driver? Bunkers like the Great Wall of China. Water holes as wide and muddy as the Yangtze.

Or will Arnie -- an affable man who has golfed with duffers like Ike Eisenhower as well as chaps like Jack Nicklaus -- show a little mercy and design what is known in the trade a "strategic" course? Meaning: With a mininum of skill, your ordinary wild swinger can stay out of those traps the size of a very , very small sandbox.

Then there's the question of national character. How indigerous should the Yongmo course be? Certainly distance is a primary geophysical trait of China. Will Arnie confront the first Chinese golfers with a hole even longer than the 745-yard 17th hole of the Black Mountain Club in the North Carolina?

Or will a people who love the puzzling subtleties of boxes-within-boxes demand greens with fiendish slopes-within-slopes where a putt will roll as sinuously as a stroke of calligraphy?

Once Arnie has designed the course, will he try to dress those who play it is his Arnold Palmer designer clothes?

Sooner of later Arnie must ask himself a hard question: Can a people who are crazy about ping-pong adopt golf and all that goes with it as a compatible taste?

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The Chinese do not appear to have gone in for an awful lot of outdoor sports over the years. In modern China, Mao established two approved forms of exercise: swimming and aphorisms. But taking the long view, "The horizon History of China" reports: "Almost no sport was allowed . The scholar never ran , jumped, or swam."

This, of course, would hardly violate the standards of golf, which, in terms of athletic exertion, ranks somewhere between walking the dog and opening a sticky umbrella.

"There was a kind of football," one historian of chinese jocks has noted, "which involved the skillful use of the foot to keep a ball off the ground." But even novelist -- who were considered a pretty decadent lot themselves -- "condemned this sports as the frivolous amusement of young ne'er-do-wells."

This leaves us with polo. There are terra-cotta figures of the seventh century showing women competitors, riding those exquisite horses of Chinese sculpture in angled pursuit of that other little white ball.

Take away the horses. Let the drives and the chip shots remain. Could any game be closer to golf? That Arnie! He had his pitch to the Chinese green planned all along.

Only one problem remains for the masteer of games. Which tall stories incredible golf should he import from the Occident?

In 1928 at Wentworth E. Australia, a certain a. E. Avery and a certain E. Barnes hit chip shots from opposite sides of the ninth fairway. The two balls collided above the green -- and both dropped in the hole. Witnesses swear to it.

Or there is the one about the grasshopper at Kirkfield, Ontario, on a summer day in 1921. A certain P. McGregor and a certain H. Dowie were tied going into the final hole. McGregor had to sink a long putt to win. His ball rolled to the edge of the cup -- and stopped. Then this old grasshopper jumped on the ball from behind and. . . .

With stories like these to pass the long Cantonese evenings, who needs a golf course?

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