Former European Tour player Max Kellner is among a 40-strong entry list for the Omega China Tour Qualifying School for foreign PGA professionals, which will be held at Palm Island Resort in eastern Guangdong province from February 9-10.
Hong Kong-based David Freeman, who has played on the Asian Tour for the past three years, is another newcomer to the 36-hole qualifier, where the top 10 finishers will earn a full card for the Omega China Tour's fifth season.
Hong Kong's Jovick Lee Wing-kei and James Stewart, winner and runner-up in last year's inaugural Qualifying School, Englishman Nick Redfern, 19th on the 2008 Omega Order of Merit, and South African Jason Robertson are among the familiar faces aiming to retain the wild card.
Kellner played on circuits around the world, including the European Tour in 2000 and 2001, before his career was halted in 2005 by injuries suffered in a car accident in Italy.
The German, who moved to Xiamen last February, only regained full motion in his shoulder after visiting a Chinese doctor every day for six months.
"I'm really happy to be playing again and it seems like a popular Tour for the foreigners here. However, it's my first tournament for a long time, so I'm not expecting to qualify," admitted Kellner, who has spent the past week at Palm Island trying to familiarize himself with the layout.
The 29-year-old will tee up for his first competitive event for over three years after hearing about the circuit from Wu Weihuang, the former martial arts champion turned golf pro who has finished in the top 10 on the Omega Order of Merit in the first four seasons.
"I was giving lessons to Wu Weihuang and his son in Xiamen and he started telling me about the circuit and that the re was an opportunity for foreigners in China," explained Kellner, who also competed on the European Challenge Tour, US Nationwide Tour and Sunshine Tour in Southern Africa before his car crash.
The 40 entries mark a significant increase from the 17 players who competed last year, revealing the growing popularity of the Tour with foreign pros in China.
The field comprises nine South Koreans, seven Brits, seven Americans, six Canadians, three each from Australia and New Zealand, and players from Germany, South Africa, Singapore, Norway and Vietnam.
Many headed to Palm Island earlier this week to practice, creating a strong sense of anticipation ahead of the first round.
"There's a great atmosphere here already, as many of the players have come early to practice, especially the Koreans," said Shay Smart, Director of Golf at Palm Island Resort. "They're all getting to know each other and are having fun."
For the second season, 10 spots at each event have been allocated to foreign PGA members living in Greater China.
Last year also marked the first full season that two players were invited from each of Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Macao, with experienced Chinese Taipei pros winning four of the eight events in 2008.
Palm Island Resort has 27 holes and is situated in the Hui Yang District in eastern Guangdong, just 40 minutes from the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border.
(Xinhua News Agency Feburary 9, 2009)