Chinese developers skirt Beijing's golf course ban to entice buyers
Despite the government barring the building of new courses, property companies have turned to developing 'sports parks' to lure rich buyers
It is banned on the mainland but its growing popularity and its appeal to property developers have turned golf into a cat-and-mouse game between the government and golf course operators.
According to the Economic Information Daily, a subsidiary of Xinhua, the number of golf courses across the nation hit 521 at the end of last year, a rise of 47 from 2012. It nearly tripled from 178 in 2004, when the central government banned golf courses.
"The rise of golf courses has prompted the Beijing municipal government to intensify the crackdown, forcing a dozen local courses to close down," said Jin Shan, a researcher at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. "The government believes golf courses exacerbate the paucity of land resources in the capital."
The Beijing city government issued a circular in September reiterating that all relevant departments need to crack the whip on golf courses as they are illegal. The government would "unswervingly close down any newly built golf course", the note said.
The government has banned building golf courses as it holds the sport unaffordable for the majority of the people while only serving the cause of the property sector. China, for example, said Jin, still lacked basketball courts and football pitches for public use and golf was hardly as popular in the country as it was elsewhere.
Lu Qilin, a research director at Shanghai Deovolente Realty, said developers and local governments were still keen on developing golf courses because they added value to the real estate projects nearby.
"Developers use the term 'sports parks' to build golf courses to attract rich buyers," Lu said. "In many cases, golf facilitates their property sales."
A senior executive at a Shanghai developer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that for many cash-rich homebuyers eager to flaunt their status, a golf course was a must-have.
"We promote our golf courses to convince would-be property buyers of the quality of our projects," he said. "We are even trying to host a national golf completion next year in the hope that it will help our property projects get the right kind of attention."
In big cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, an increasing number of rich Chinese are taking up golf. Joe Zhou, an entrepreneur, said the 800 yuan (HK$1,010) he had to fork out for an 18-hole game was worth every fen.
"I just love this game. To me, it is not a luxury, as the government paints it," Zhou said. "Now that golf has been accepted as an Olympic event, it seems ridiculous to ban it."
Jin predicts the government will probably ease the ban when the number of golf players reaches about 20 million. "That will be a long wait, unless China discovers a superstar golfer in the meantime."