Golf in China: Haters Gonna Hate
By Conor Nagle under General

Shenzhen Golf Club, former host of the China Open

Every large bureacracy has its blind spots, some just happen to be larger than others. In the People’s Republic of China, government corruption and a surge in middle class affluence are fuelling an enmormous market in illegal golf course development. An article in the Financial Times by Jamil Anderlini examines the extent of the problem and questions the resolve of the authorities to act:

China introduced a ban on the construction of golf courses in 2004 in an attempt to preserve dwindling farmland, save water and reduce the huge number of villagers thrown off their land as luxury real estate is developed.

“Since the year 2004 we have put a halt to the construction of golf courses,” Gan Zangchun, deputy chief supervisor of state land at the Ministry of Land and Resources, said recently. “Pending the formulation of any new regulation, the building of any new golf course is prohibited and is illegal.”

But despite the ban the number of golf courses in China has more than tripled from 170 in 2004 to nearly 600 now, according to figures from the golf education and research centre at the Beijing Forestry University.”

China’s decision to enforce the 2004 edict isn’t exactly a new development; it’s been threatening the use of satellite technology and “harsh punishment” in the pursuit of illegal developers for years. Though the bourgeois associations of the game make it an easy target in communist China, the unpopularity of the game at an administrative level is exaccerbated by environmental factors:

“In a country with so little farmland per head it was “quite ridiculous” to allow a course to take up 40 to 50 hectares of land, [the Head of Land Planning at the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources] said. He added that each course required 3,000 cubic metres of water – a particular issue in the parched north, where there is already a dire shortage.

Seven state bodies launched a joint investigation in September, he said. In one case this year, it emerged that a course in Hebei had swallowed up 100 hectares which should have been used for construction and almost 126 hectares of arable land, an official told the China Daily.”

Though the ban might ultimately rest on principles more ideological than practical, it nonetheless highlights the growing issue of the sport’s environmental sustainability. Hardly ignored as an issue in Europe and the United States, it has, nonetheless, yet to really gain traction beyond the buzzwords and gimmickery of corporate tokenism.

[Thanks to Shackelford for spotting the Financial Times article]