Should golf courses be bulldozed for housing? The question has been raised as the debate over a new town project continues to rage. Last week, lawmakers passed a motion urging the government to include the 170-hectare Fanling course into the contentious northeast development plan. Although the move is not binding, it raises a valid point. Instead of flattening villagers' houses, how about making use of the golf courses nearby?
The Hong Kong Golf Association is understandably disappointed by the suggestion that two of the three 18-hole courses could be sacrificed for housing. It said the city's five golf clubs only have 189 golf holes in total, whereas Singapore has at least 378. The association said the Fanling site has been home to the Hong Kong Open since 1959 and is the only local venue suitable for the international tournament. Golf clubs also provided facilities for non-members and help develop amateur golf to an international level, it added.
Hong Kong's golfing standard and the ability to host world events are certainly important to the sports community. This, however, has little resonance in a city hard-pressed for more land for housing. The truth is that golf, despite a growing appeal to the middle class, is still a symbol of wealth and status. That the Fanling golf club is paying token land premium and rent to the government, but charging handsome fees for members as well as outsiders for using the courses, does not win public sympathy for its fight to keep the site. The public care more about how many flats could be built than how many holes of golf we are short compared with Singapore.
The government may be right to say it is unrealistic to expect the golf course could be resumed immediately to replace the northeast development project, saying it would take years to clear the environmental assessment, infrastructure and planning issues. But that should not prevent the government from exploring the feasibility in future should the need arise. Meanwhile, there is a need to rationalise the land premium and make the golf club more accessible to the public.