Time for HK Golf Club to tee off against the government over land grab

On wrong side of class warfare, historic club must explain why course should not be torn up for housing as many want

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 August, 2013, 10:42am

The silence was deafening, troubling in fact. For weeks the populist crusade raged over reclaiming the land where the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling sits to build public housing.

An ambitious green group had an idea that instead of building new housing tracts in the New Territories, the government should take the 54 holes at Fanling, which has hosted the Hong Kong Open since 1959, and tear them up to erect row upon row of much-needed housing instead of evicting small groups of villagers and farmers from their land. After all, it's merely a playpen for a couple of thousand of the city's richest people.

The government, besieged by perpetual ineptitude and terminally poor popularity ratings, is desperate to try anything so they nodded in approval and said, hmm, it might be worth exploring.

A slew of pious poseurs in print and on the airwaves gleefully joined the fray, denouncing the sense of entitlement among the one per cent of the one per cent. And in response to a growing avalanche of criticism, the people who run Fanling said … nothing. Beaten on like a helpless piñata, they officially had absolutely nothing to say.

Even if I wanted to sit this brouhaha out, I can't because I actually play the game, although not particularly well, and apparently have to apologise for indulging in this blissful misery known as golf.

I've also attended a number of Hong Kong Opens, which according to one so-called commentator is "a snob sporting event for the wealthy few". That's certainly news to my forlorn bank account. Compounding all of this tripe, we also have a green group that wants to get rid of the green.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you, Fanling

Let's not forget the Hong Kong government, whose Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po is overseeing the entire project of developing housing in the New Territories. In a disgraced government, Chan has redefined the genre and is embroiled in another scandal in which he is accused of buying up derelict land tracts for a song some 20 years ago that he now proposes to turn into new government housing projects and which would immeasurably increase the value of the plots. Of course, he claims it was his wife who bought the land and subsequently sold it to her brother so there is no conflict of interest here whatsoever.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you, Fanling.

After more than three weeks of silence the club finally issued a press release that, not surprisingly, read like a lawyerly, corporate tome and helped to perpetuate every myth of their membership being totally out of touch with the realities of Hong Kong.

I know it would be uncharacteristically common of you to issue a spirited defence, but as well intentioned as your efforts may be they fall as flat as a noodle at the worst possible time. You talk about how "you share the public's concern for the best use of land resources, and the anxiety of all those villagers and farmers affected by it", but in what way exactly?

The overwhelming sentiment in comment pages, letters to the editors, call-in shows and online is in favour of tearing up the course for housing and don't be surprised if there is an "Occupy Fanling" movement at the next Hong Kong Open, which is also fighting for its very existence after losing its prime spot in the golfing calendar and is still without a sponsor.

While I know you are awash in protocol and all of the members of the club are in lockdown mode as far as public comments, you guys are on the wrong side of class warfare right now. Maybe some backroom deals are afoot with your government contacts to save as much of the course as possible. But this will only heighten the sense of entitlement surrounding your club, particularly now that everyone knows the government leases the land, all 170 hectares of it to you, for the princely sum of one dollar a year.

There is a new day dawning here, it's not business as usual anymore. It's time to get over yourself and to let us see some of your faces, to stand up and tell us you are tired of all the misinformation. Unless it's not misinformation. In which case, best to dummy up. But since space is such a valued commodity in Hong Kong, I offer you as much as you need. Loosen up the Windsor knot and take the gag off because we would love to hear your side of the story. I won't even charge you a dollar in rent.