Peking University's decision to scrap a planned golf driving range aimed at students wanting to learn a game many in the world of big business see as essential to striking deals may seem an overreaction to criticism. Golf is, after all, just another sport. Such an idea may be true in parts of the world with a golf-playing tradition, but this is certainly not the case on the mainland, where until Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms took root in the 1980s, the game was shunned because it was perceived by leaders as bourgeois. Two decades later, despite there being more than 200 courses and scores more being built, the sport has come to symbolise some of the nation's biggest potential threats: the divide between rich and poor, social disharmony, corruption and environmental degradation. This is unfair on golf, which is a challenging test of accuracy, strategy and gamesmanship. The combination tests a player's character and skill, which is why it has become a favourite means for businesspeople to determine partnerships and deals. During a round of golf, a person's temperament, fairness and ability to cope with stress are laid bare. But the manner in which golf has developed on the mainland also goes to the heart of the nation's ills. Through two decades of essentially unregulated development, courses have been allowed to flourish with an eye solely on money-making. High club-membership fees have ensured that it is a game only for the wealthy; it is not unusual for joining fees to be US$100,000 or more - in a country where the per capita gross domestic product last year was US$1,740. China has insufficient arable land to feed its people and courses take up valuable farmland. Land has often been taken from farmers unfairly or corruptly so courses can be built, causing protests and sometimes unrest. Courses also use large amounts of water to keep fairways and greens in good condition, using up a resource that is increasingly scarce amid low rainfall and a rising population. Chemicals used to keep imported grasses from being damaged by insects sometimes leaches into waterways, polluting drinking and irrigation water supplies. So pervasive have been the problems associated with golf that the central government in 2004 banned new course proposals and last December vowed to slow development of the industry. This fits in with President Hu Jintao's regular calls for harmony in speeches since taking over as Communist Party chief four years ago; this was officially enshrined as doctrine on October 11 in a document on social harmony approved by the party's leadership. Politically and socially, Peking University's decision is therefore wise. As a responsible attitude towards sport, though, it is short-sighted. For the sake of diversity, there is no reason why golf should again be pushed into extinction on the mainland. The problem with golf in China is, after all, one of a lack of official regulation rather than the sport being elitist or environmentally unsound. In Western Europe, for example, the predominance of public courses means that the game is not merely the domain of the rich (on the mainland, there are only a handful of courses open to the public). Similarly, courses are designed or adapted to be environmentally friendly, recycling water, using natural grasses and as few chemicals as possible. Despite a small fraction of the mainland's population playing golf, the country ranks 17th in the world for the number of courses. Most are underused and the freeze on the industry should ensure market forces determine which survive. Perhaps some will again become farms. At the same time, though, the government should keep an open mind on golf, encouraging development of the sport instead of holding it up as an example of the country's problems.