AS one of the oldest golf clubs in Asia, the Royal Hong Kong Golf has risen from humble beginnings as a mere sideline to local horse racing to the pinnacle of financial investment. It has effortlessly traversed the changing place of golf - from simple exercise to a status symbol indicating the membership holder's success, wealth and social standing. Established in 1889, it became only the second golf course to be built outside Britain. The first was the Royal Calcutta Golf club, established in India in 1829. It was originally housed within the racetrack at Happy Valley, but moved in 1898 to Deep Water Bay. At that time it was granted a lease for an isolated plot of land which already contained six holes, carved out by enthusiastic picnickers. The plot of land is still functioning as a golf course, and has since expanded to nine holes, providing the perfect 'inner city' alternative to the main courses at Fanling. In 1911 the Golf Club moved its headquarters to the wide expanses of Fanling, where the present main complex is still situated. The Fanling complex boasts 54 holes, and has been the centre of Hong Kong's booming golfing industry for the past 84 years. It is home to the territory's longest-running sporting event, the annual Hong Kong Open Golf Championships, which first teed off in 1959 and has attracted such greats as Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Tom Watson and Chen Tse-ming. These days joining the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club is not easy. Unless you possess a handicap in low single figures - such as five under - the only way of getting into the club requires a lot of patience and a very, very large sum of money. In line with the cost of golf club memberships everywhere in Asia, individual membership of the club is now more than $80,000 - and there is a 20-year waiting list. The only other way in is to buy a corporate debenture which are currently selling for $8.6 million. The club undertook a major renovation of Fanling for its centenary in 1989 to bring it up to standards demanded by 20th-century members. A simple round of golf on a comfortable green is no longer enough, and the club also provides a swimming pool, tennis court, squash court, badminton court, restaurants, bars, accommodation and virtually everything else that could possibly be needed. But while Fanling now reigns supreme as one of the most highly regarded courses in Asia, the old nine-hole course at Deep Water Bay came under threat in 1990 when the Government, who still officially owned the land, announced plans to turn the course into a theme park when the lease expires next year.