Local golf may have a bleak future and the Hong Kong Open professional tournament is at risk if the courses at Fanling are lost to new-town development, say leaders of the sport in the city.
William Chung Pui-lam, president of the Hong Kong Golf Association, said growth of the game - recently made an Olympic sport - would suffer if the Hong Kong Golf Club's three-course, 170-hectare facility at Fanling were lost to housing.
"Any disruption would certainly have a detrimental effect [on the development of the game in Hong Kong]," he said.
Chung is the first senior golf official to comment on suggestions that the club's land in the northeastern New Territories be redeveloped for housing.
Chung, a member of the club, was last month re-elected for a second stint as president of the association. He refused to comment on the future of the open, but said support from golf clubs was vital for the growth of the game.
The Hong Kong Golf Club has refused to comment, but will address the issue at a committee meeting on Monday. "We are currently reviewing all the information and will be making a formal statement soon," said general manager Keith Williams.
Members said the future of the Fanling site was a "very sensitive issue", a "huge concern" and potentially "a devastating blow".
Golf commentator Dominique Boulet, a former Hong Kong representative and a member of the club for almost 30 years, said: "If we lost the Hong Kong Golf Club, I'm not sure I would live here any more."
One club member questioned the government's motives, saying: "There are other tracts of land available."
He said he hoped "cooler heads will prevail".
Another long-time golfer said: "It would be a devastating blow to the Hong Kong Open if we lost the Hong Kong Golf Club. This tournament is the oldest open in Asia to have been played continuously at one venue [Fanling] … just imagine if we lost it."
The club's lease on the Fanling site expires in 2020, but the government can reclaim the land by giving 12 months' notice.
The club was founded in 1889 in Happy Valley and the Old Course was created in Fanling in 1911. It is the second-oldest course in the world outside Britain, after the Royal Calcutta Golf Club's course in India.
Reports that a compromise could be reached in which the Hong Kong Golf Club would give up a section of Fanling - most likely the Old Course - have not been confirmed.
"I have not heard anything about giving up one of the courses as a compromise," Chung said.
There are 90 golfers in Hong Kong's international team who use the courses at Fanling to train and play.
Hong Kong coach Brad Schadewitz said: "We need more golf facilities and not less. If we lose the facilities at Fanling, it will have a major impact on the game.
"This is the case in any sport, but more so in golf, simply because there are so few courses."
The association has around 16,000 members on a handicap, and there are thousands more who don't have a handicap but play the game.
Hong Kong has four private golf clubs - the Hong Kong Golf Club, the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club, the Discovery Bay Golf Club and the Shek O Golf & Country Club. There is one public course at Kau Sai Chau, off Sai Kung.
Hong Kong has 688 hectares of golf courses, less than half of Singapore's 1,500 hectares, which are spread over 18 courses.