Mainland Chinese investors pushing up membership prices at Hong Kong's elite clubs
Hong Kong's private clubs, once the domain of rich local businessmen seeking a place to relax, entertain and - perhaps - flaunt their wealth and status, are attracting a new type of member.
The increase in the number of mainland investors looking for a solid return on their money by buying and selling second-hand memberships has resulted in many prices more than doubling in as few as six years.
A second-hand individual membership at the Aberdeen Marina Club has jumped from HK$1.2 million in 2008 to about HK$2.7 million today.
At the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club, the price of a second-hand corporate membership was HK$2.8 million in 2008. Today it is HK$5.8 million.
"You can't make big money in the short term. But it is a good investment in the medium and long term," said Tony Chan, sales director of Everfine Membership Services, a broker of golf and country club memberships.
With most of the city's private clubs full, the only way for newcomers to gain entry is to purchase a membership from a departing member. This scarcity keeps the demand - and the prices - high.
Chan said the secondary market for club membership was "very active".
"Once a membership is put on sale, it will be bought instantly," he said.
What makes the memberships particularly attractive to mainland buyers is that the market is free from government intervention, unlike the property market, in which non-local or corporate buyers must pay a punitive stamp duty.
"Unlike the property market, there is no special anti-speculation tax imposed by the government. In the club membership market, it is a totally free market," said Chan.
Business at Chan's firm, which has been operating since 1997, has grown by about 10 per cent a year. Mainlanders account for about half his business.
At the Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club it was becoming increasingly common to hear Putonghua spoken, said long-time member Stanley Lau Chin-ho, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries,
"But the Mandarin-speaking members are well-behaved. They are rich and educated," he said.
A club membership is valued for various reasons - it offers space to meet clients, a venue to play sports and to enjoy family time. But to many it is also a sign of success.
"It is a symbol that you have made it. And the more prestigious the club, the more face you get," said Raymond Kwok, of BA Marketing.
He said a lack of new members-only clubs kept prices high.
Buying a transferable membership traded on the second-hand market also enables would-be members to avoid a long waiting list.
While not all clubs allow memberships to be bought and sold on the secondary market - the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Hong Kong Club are among those that do not - many do, at a price.
According to Everfine Membership Services, membership of the Hong Kong Golf Club, which has courses in Fanling and Deep Water Bay, is the most expensive. A second-hand corporate membership costs HK$12.5 million.
But high-status prices are not great news for everyone. In a rare display of public discontent, about 50 members of Discovery Bay Golf Club - where an individual membership sells for about HK$2.9 million in the secondary market - petitioned management in February over a 50 per cent rise in fees.
They were unhappy that the rise was "way beyond the rate of inflation" and that members had not been consulted.
A spokesman for the club's management declined to discuss the issue, citing the privacy concerns of members. But he added: "We note that it is common for a private club in Hong Kong to review and adjust its fee and fee structure from time to time in accordance with their own rules."
The rich club: What you’ll pay for secondhand memberships around town
Price changes of second-hand memberships of selected private clubs
Aberdeen Marina Club (individual):
2008 HK$1.2 million
2014 HK$2.7 million
Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club (corporate):
2008 HK$2.8 million
2014 HK$5.8 million
Discovery Bay Golf Club (individual)
2008 HK$2 million
2014 HK$2.9 million
Gold Coast Yacht and Country Club (individual):
Pacific Club Kowloon (individual):
Sources – club membership agents