A ban has existed on new golf courses for over 10 years, but development has continued unabated. But on March 30, the Ministry of Land and Resources announced it was shutting down “illegally built” courses, in an action that is seen as tied to a new crackdown on corruption.
China’s Communist rulers have turned against the “exclusive” sport of golf, Yahoo! Sports reported, with the government saying nearly 70 “illegal” courses have been closed, to seemingly enforce a decade-old ban for the first time.
Central authorities ordered a nationwide moratorium on new golf courses in 2004, Yahoo! Sports reported, but development continued as revenue-minded local officials went their own way, even offering tax breaks for operators of new courses in places such as Hainan.
The announcement of the closures, made on March 30 by the Ministry of Land and Resources, came amid a high-profile anti-graft campaign spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, which has seen crackdowns on banquets, lavish gift-giving and other official excesses, Yahoo! Sports reported
The ruling Communist Party has long had an ambivalent relationship with golf, which is a lucrative opportunity for local authorities and a favored pastime of some officials, but is also closely associated with wealth and Western elites, Yahoo! Sports reported
“Presently, local governments have shut down a number of illegally built golf courses, and preliminary results have been achieved in cleanup and rectification work,” read the announcement on the ministry’s website that was posted on March 30.
The land resources ministry did not give reasons for the facilities’ closure, but water and environmental concerns were cited among the factors that drove the 2004 ban, Yahoo! Sports reported.
A spokeswoman for the China Golf Association, which is supervised by the sports ministry, said she could not comment on the latest move.
Three of the 66 “illegal” golf courses listed by the Land and Resources Ministry are in Beijing, Yahoo! Sports reported. Eight are in the eastern province of Shandong, while the southern and southwestern provinces of Guangdong and Yunnan are home to six each.
Even the tropical island province of Hainan—considered the capital of the sport in China—has not been spared, Yahoo! Sports reported, with three unsanctioned courses shut down, according to the statement from the Ministry of Land and Resources. The statement did not give a timeframe for the closures.
News of the closures was followed the next day by a Commerce Ministry announcement that senior official Wang Shenyang was being investigated for playing golf in violation of Xi’s “eight rules” on official behavior, Yahoo! Sports reported.
With an eye on containing public anger over China’s widening wealth gap, authorities have in recent years banned an assortment of “extravagances”, such as private clubs—often frequented by officials—in historic buildings and parks, Yahoo! Sports reported. But such orders are often flouted.
Last year, the ruling party’s anti-graft commission in Guangdong announced that provincial Communist officials would face punishment if they engaged in any of nine golf-related activities, including joining a golf club.
The notice posted on the commission’s website urged the public to report any suspected “golf violations” through a telephone hotline, Yahoo! Sports reported, and a commentary on the website declared that “all over the world, golf is synonymous with extravagant spending, and even in developed Western countries, it is considered a ‘noble’ sport.”
Golf club memberships in China typically cost “far above the normal annual income level of officials and the general public,” the commission’s announcement said, and office-holders who become “enamored” of the sport “risk losing touch with the masses”.
According to Dan Washburn, author of “The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream,” government officials in China who are keen on joining golf clubs often do so under false names, wary of being perceived as corrupt or out of touch, Yahoo! Sports reported
Washburn pointed out on Twitter that the announcement of the 66 course closures came days after news that Tiger Woods was to be paid $16.5 million to redesign a course in the capital.
The number of courses in China has grown from fewer than 200 at the time of the 2004 ban to more than 600 at present, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
China is even home to the world’s largest golf resort—the Mission Hills Golf Club in the southern industrial hub of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong. The 20-sq.-km (7.7-sq. mi.) complex was founded in 1994 and boasts twelve 18-hole courses.
As golf facilities have multiplied, so too has the China’s clout on the professional golf stage, Yahoo! Sports noted. Last November, the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, a tournament known as “Asia’s Major,” teed off in Shanghai, with 40 of the world’s top 50 players present for the second consecutive year. The $8.5 million event is now the largest tournament in the world outside the U.S. and the British Open.