SOUTH African legend Gary Player claimed a triumph for the environment after officially opening Hong Kong's first public golf course at Kau Sai Chau yesterday.
Player, whose company designed the $400 million, 140-hectare course, said not only was it one of the best courses in Asia but it also enhanced the environment rather than damaging it.
When the Hong Kong Government started work on the former British military site on the island in May 1994, it came under fire from environmentalists, who feared the project would harm the island's flora and fauna.
But Player said: 'I am very happy that we have been able to provide a green belt in this part of Hong Kong.
'It is a beautiful course by the sea, surrounded by mountains and we were very careful to make sure it was not detrimental to the environment.
'There are more birds here now than there were before.' Jockey Club chief executive Major-General Guy Watkins, whose organisation funded the project, backed up Player, saying that the Kau Sai Chau development had turned what was a devastated bomb-site into an eye-pleasing recreational facility there for all to enjoy.
'We have tried to build a golf course that would make the environment better than it was before,' said General Watkins.
'I remember many years ago when I was in the army, the island was full of holes from bombs.
'We have listened to the environmental lobby and have preserved specific areas for flora and fauna.' Player yesterday opened the first 18 holes. A second 18-hole course is due to open in February.
The course, a 15-minute ferry ride from Sai Kung, officially opens to the public on December 27, with green fees from $250 for a round.