High stakes for corporate game
Unless one is loaded and has extreme patience, or the company is willing to pay, getting membership of a club is hard
Hong Kong might be the third most expensive city in the world for luxury apartments - behind Monaco and London - but that is nothing compared with the price of a golf debenture in this town, with prices soaring despite the poor global economic outlook.
It will set you back HK$14.8 million to buy a corporate debenture at Hong Kong Golf Club, the home of one of Asia's oldest professional golf tournaments, where world No 1 Rory McIlroy made a lightning visit earlier this month - he missed the cut.
Spain with its manifold golf courses might be trying to boost its property market by offering foreigners residency if they buy luxury homes along its Mediterranean coastline, but in Hong Kong any corporate high-flier with a golf addiction would be forced to wait years to join as an individual member at the Fanling club.
"You can apply, but the waiting list at Hong Kong Golf Club for an individual membership is long. Some clients have been waiting for 20 years," says Vivian Wong, sales manager at China Dragon Membership Services, one of the many organisations which paves the way for an A-list clientele to become members at one of Hong Kong's four golf clubs.
Actually, make that three. To become a member at Shek O, where only individual memberships are available, you have to be invited by a member who has to propose your name to a committee dealing with such matters.
The other private clubs - Fanling, Clearwater Bay and Discovery Bay - have individual and corporate memberships, but unless you are loaded and have the patience of Job, or alternatively your company is willing to pay up, walking through the doorway is hard.
The sky is the limit in terms of cost. The price on the secondhand market - membership lists at all the local clubs are full - for an individual debenture at the 18-hole Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club is about HK$4.3 million and for a corporate buy-in about HK$5.5 million, This is up by more than HK$1 million in the past three years. In 2005, membership cost about HK$1.5 million.
Discovery Bay Golf Club on Lantau Island, which has 27 holes, is a bit cheaper, costing between HK$1.8 million and HK$2 million for an individual membership, while a corporate debenture is more than HK$2.4 million. Prices have risen by a few hundred thousand only, in the past few years.
A corporate debenture at the 54-hole Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling has risen the most. In 2007, it would have set one back HK$8.4 million. Today, the asking rate, if you are lucky to get a spot available, is at least HK$6 million more. "The reason why prices keep going up is obvious," says Brad Schadewitz, the man in charge of the Hong Kong Golf Association's development programme. "Demand is high, supply is limited and this leads to prices going up."
With only one public course in town - Kau Sai Chau, where two of the three scenic 18-hole golf courses on the Sai Kung peninsula were designed by the legendary Gary Player - the slack has been taken up by courses across the border. While anyone can turn up on weekdays and play a round at Fanling for instance, provided they pay the green fees, the chances of having a round on the weekend is virtually non-existent unless you are a member or have a corporate debenture.
This has resulted in many people opting to go across the border to Guangzhou where myriad opportunities await the weekend hacker.
The most high-profile destination is Mission Hills Golf Club near Shenzhen, where there are 12 courses - 216 holes, making it the biggest golf club in the world - all of them designed by famous personalities in the game. Several types of membership are available at Mission Hills, with the Diamond variety being the premium and costing HK$1.05 million. This gives access to all 12 courses.
It is equally expensive, and in some cases more so, trying to become a member of one of the top clubs in Shanghai and Beijing.
History shows that it has not been easy to play the sport on this "barren rock". Even back in 1889, when the Hong Kong Golf Club was formed, the first few members had to share their plot of land in Happy Valley with soccer, polo, hockey and military parades.
Today, the avid golfer can find a number of driving ranges dotted around the city which gives him, or her, the opportunity to hone their skills during lunch hour or after work. But if you are hoping to do it in style, then you will need deep pockets and the patience of an ascetic monk to play at one of the clubs in Hong Kong.