Golf is growing in popularity among China’s nouveau riche as well as with property developers looking to attract well-heeled customers. But construction of golf courses in a country wracked by drought can be a disaster for the environment. Government efforts to rein in the construction of new links have been futile, the Globe and Mail reports:
Golf — a relatively new introduction to the country but a passion among the same new elite who drink fine wines and buy up French chateaux — is a fast growing business on the mainland despite a state edict in 2004 which banned the building of new courses. Last year, Golf Today estimated there were more than a million golfers in China, with huge potential for growth.
However, of an estimated 600 or more golf courses around the mainland, only 10 are fully legal with central government approval. The rest — two thirds of which have been built since 2004 — were created as “eco-tourism” projects that fail to mention the golf component, or with approvals obtained from local governments who benefit from the land sale and the resulting increase in property values. (It helps, of course, that many government officials are said to have acquired a taste for the game as well.)
“Given the fact that 400 of the more than 600 cities in China are suffering from water shortages, the rapid depleting of underground water to keep the hundreds of golf courses green will likely prove to have severe consequences for many cities in the near future,” read an editorial in the English-language China Daily newspaper, which accused Beijing’s golf courses of using nearly 40 million tons of underground water annually, equal to the amount consumed by 1 million residents a year, despite the city’s water shortages.
Still, this latest round of ranting is likely to pass without much dampening of enthusiasm for the sport.
The Los Angeles Times concurs that the appetite for golf is not likely to wane anytime soon and that government efforts to slow the trend are not taken seriously:
The appetite for new golf links has grown in concert with the surge in China’s property market. A set of greens can boost the value of residential developments, allowing local governments to pocket more in land sales. With so much money at stake, municipal officials have had little incentive to enforce the ban.
The central government has periodically ordered courses to be demolished, but the crackdowns are never sustained. Meanwhile, developers are able to capitalize on legal loopholes to continue laying courses.
“It seems that if the government was really serious about trying to curtail the growth of golf courses, they would have developed a series of hoops that developers would have to jump through,” said Dan Washburn, the author of an upcoming book about golf in China. “By issuing a moratorium and turning their head, they let things grow out of control.”
For decades, the communist government considered golf one of the many trappings of the bourgeoisie, and banned it until 1984. But the country’s economic reform has given rise to the game, especially among the country’s nouveaux riches who are drawn to its novelty and prestige.