Mainland golf courses demolished amid Beijing crackdown
All that remains of an 18-hole golf course on 60 hectares of land in Chaoyang, on Beijing's outskirts, is rubble and mounds of mud after the authorities ordered workers to dig up the course in March and tear down the clubhouse.
Two other courses have also been demolished on the orders of the National Development and Reform Commission, while another has been turned into an eco-friendly park and a fifth converted into a tea plantation, suggesting the central government could finally be cracking down on developers which have long ignored a 2004 ban on building golf courses.
The government, which announced the demolitions last month, said its actions served as a warning and an attempt to educate "would-be" violators.
Just over a week ago, the National Audit Office joined in, publicly shaming two big state-run enterprises for building golf courses.
"It's a stepped-up campaign for sure," said one developer, whose company constructed a course after the ban and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Nevertheless, developers say golf courses remain in demand by the local authorities who want the revenue from selling land while attracting well-heeled visitors to their regions.
The ban was imposed to protect the mainland's shrinking land and water resources - it is home to 20 per cent of the world's population but has just 7 per cent of its water. The only place exempted was the southern resort island of Hainan.
But developers had built 639 golf courses across the country by the end of last year, triple the number in 2004, according to Shenzhen-based Forward Management Group.
To skirt the ban, developers and local officials designated land for anything other than a golf course in building applications, developers and lawyers said, calling the projects sports training centres or tourist resorts. Many come complete with high-end villas.
Because of the large tracts of land needed for such projects, they must be approved by the State Council, said Zhu Maoyuan, a lawyer who has seen disguised applications.
"I have never seen developers and local governments use 'golf course' as a project name or for land use purposes when seeking approval," said Zhu, a partner at the Zhong Lun law firm in Beijing.
The developer said many applications simply got the go-ahead from the local authorities.
The central government has promised to clamp down on illegal golf course construction before but the demolition order against the five developers by the NDRC has been the first real sign of enforcement.
Another developer said he was invited by a local government in the years after the ban to build a golf course to help the region lure wealthy residents.
"We got the land cheaply. We made money from selling villas around the golf course and the government got the domestic consumption it wanted," the developer said.
An executive at a third developer said his firm had constructed a golf course in Guangdong after 2004 and was now planning to build 100 ultra-luxury villas around it. The expected sale price: 70 million yuan (HK$87.2 million) each.