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China Allows the Forbidden Game of Golf

Updated on July 11, 2014

Hit the ball. Walk the course. Fresh air and exercise. Beautiful surroundings in a natural setting. What is there NOT to like?

In China's recent history, golf was banned because it was imperialistic. Under Mao, one could get jail for playing the game or building a golf course. In fact, Mao ordered all pre-revolutionary (around 1948) courses converted or dug up. The former Shanghai course was turned into a zoo. But as Mao's imprint faded into jaded Chinese memories and younger less-communistic leaders took his place, like, Deng Xiaping in the 1980's, golf slowly was allowed and tolerated by its government but still discouraged. By the 1990's, the dislike of rich Chinese still made the "rich man's game" difficult to play in the country, though permitted. But, China continued to not allow any new courses to be built. In 2004, reinforced its ban on building new courses because of the impact on local environments.

China even by 2000, was still a developing nation playing catch-up with the superpowers. Then, it still had a long way to go. In 2007, China's leaders passed laws indicating that creating new courses is illegal but if new ones are built, the course will be taxed at a rate of 24%.

Ironically, since the 2004 and 2007 decrees, some 600 new courses have been developed with the most being created in 2008-9. So, the government is not so communistic, the heavy taxation on the courses creates a lot of income. The first international golf match occurred there in 1995.

Income is the reason why despite the anti-golf stance banner, China embraces the game, well, at least the rich do. The biggest golf development in the country is in Hainan (think Hawaii) and consists of 22 courses sprawling in an area the size of Hong Kong island. This area is exempt from the ban. SInce 2000, there have been many more rich tycoons in China via the real estate boom of high rise apartments and villas. In China, all land is owned by the State but local areas lease the land rights to golf course developers at inflated prices that they retain most of the profits. This is similar like the state of Hawaii, where the state owns the land and real estate is leased to buyers for 100 years. Since 2006, the Mission Hills Haikou course has been under under construction and completed in 2011. It is 1.5 times the size of Manhattan! It has 396 holes. The project required 10,000 workers.

In China, the increasing number of rich people want to play golf. The reason why golf course construction is great for the local economy is more mafia-like. Local police in the construction area get their take (bribe) to do nothing, local construction material like sand, which is in short supply, is monopolized by those who have it. Local contractors must be used who then pay kickbacks to authorities to look the other way. If a contractor is hired for a specific job, they are locked into it until completion even if the end result is shoddy. If the work is not up to spec, the course developer (usually American) is forced to hire another local firm to correct the error. The worse aspect of developing a course in China is the arbitrary manner in how the government enforces or not enforce the "golf course development" ban. If they demand more money from the developer, there is no choice but to pay it or quit.

Still, golf for most Chinese is costly. Average green fees for non-members are usually at least $100, and often far more expensive. For example, at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club, the initiation fee $170,000 with $1,800 a year dues. At Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club, the initiation fee is $230,000.


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    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

      China is aping the developed world without appreciating that dictatorship is its bane.