It has been 21 years since the handover of Hong Kong, when the former British colony was returned to China.

Many of the city’s fine old historical landmarks disappeared forever in the 1970s and ’80s as developers – keen to build taller constructions in their place – bulldozed their way across large parts of the city.

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Yet some of its former colonial characteristics – seen as charms by some – have yet to fade away, with some of the prestigious private clubs with more than 100 years of history still offering the fine traditions to the city’s elite.

1. Hong Kong Club

The club was established in 1846 by eight senior Hong Kong business executives or “taipans” – literally “top class, or “big bosses” in Cantonese – for meetings.

The club is the oldest in Hong Kong, which at the time was one of the busiest trading ports, or entrepôts, in Asia.

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Few official records detailing its history have been kept, unfortunately; but it is known that the club, set up by the heads of the city’s large “hongs” (or foreign commercial establishments), occupied premises in Queen’s Road Central “from the corner of Wyndham Street to the corner of D’Aguilar Street”.

The founders “held the property on the understanding that it should not be sold while any of them lived”, but in 1886, when only two of the founders remained, the club stopped using the premises.

In 1897, the club moved into to a striking, colonial-style Victorian building on Jackson Road, which – despite efforts to preserve it from redevelopers’ bulldozers – was demolished in 1981 and replaced with the current, third-generation Hong Kong Club building.

The club quickly established itself as one of Hong Kong’s most exclusive clubs, with membership open only to British merchants and civil servants.

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The rules were eased in the late 1970s and in 1996 it accepted women as members as a result of the Sex Discrimination Ordinance.

Today, the club has about 1,550 members.

Joining fee: membership is by invitation and ballot only.

2. Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club

As the club’s name suggests, the history of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is closely linked with the former colony.

Officially incorporated in 1894, the backbone of the club was the Victoria Regatta Club, which had been formed in 1849 and was later absorbed by the Hong Kong Boating Club, which eventually merged with the Hong Kong Corinthian Sailing Club in 1889.

Five years later, the club was permitted by the Office of the Admiralty to be renamed The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

In its early days it accepted only British members, with military personnel serving on the board.

The club moved from North Point to its current location on Kellett Island, or Tang Lung Chau, in Victoria Harbour, off the coast of Causeway Bay in 1938.

However, the island eventually became connected to Hong Kong Island following reclamation work next to Wan Chai North Shore in the 1960s and the completion of the Cross Tunnel Harbour in 1972.

With the principal site located in Causeway Bay, and two smaller bases at Shelter Cove near Sai Kung, and Middle Island in Repulse Bay, the club is open to members who are interested in rowing or sailing.

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It currently has 13,600 members.

Joining fee: HK$91,800 (US$11,800) for ordinary single membership; HK$137,700 for ordinary married couple membership; HK$1.88 million for individual debenture membership; HK$2.25 million for corporate nominee membership.

3. Hong Kong Cricket Club

The earliest cricket game in Hong Kong history was recorded as being played in 1841, a year before the end of the First Opium War, which saw Hong Kong Island ceded to the British.

In 1851, the Hong Kong Cricket Club was formed on a sports and recreation ground located on part of the British forces Murray Parade Ground in Central.

It served as the home of the club until 1975, when the public park, Chater Garden, was created on the site when the clubhouse moved to its present Wong Nai Chung Gap Road site.

The club now has more than 2,300 members.

It is regarded as one of the best clubs in the city in terms of its sports facilities and the quality of the food served at its various restaurants and bars, including the Chater Tavern.

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The tavern is named after Sir Paul Chater, an iconic Hong Kong businessman, politician and cricket buff, who played for the Hong Kong Cricket Club’s first XI.

Joining fee: HK$288,000 for subscriber membership; HK$1.89 million for perpetuity corporate nominee membership.

4. Hong Kong Jockey Club

This club started out as a small organisation to promote horse racing and riding in Happy Valley in 1884, and included only upper-class members of society.

Since then the Hong Kong Jockey Club – known as the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club from 1959 to 1996 – has grown into one of the biggest institutions in the world, in terms of revenue and scale.

It is a non-profit organisation providing horse racing, sports and betting entertainment, including the Mark Six lottery, and is a major donor to community projects.

Although the 700 or so races each season are open to the general public, being a member of the club is regarded as a mark of social status.

The club has several membership categories, including full membership, which is held by the bulk of its existing 14,900 members.  

Joining fee: HK$150,000 for racing membership; HK$600,000 for full membership; HK$2.2 million and HK$4.4 million for corporate membership.

5. Hong Kong Golf Club

In terms of its second-hand membership price and new membership vacancies, the Hong Kong Golf Club is the most exclusive private club in Hong Kong.

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Full membership costs about HK$17 million and new applications are closed at the moment.

The club, founded in 1889 by 13 golf enthusiasts, was started with nothing; in its early days it did not even have a regular place where members could play the sport.

Its members were permitted to play regularly at Happy Valley Racecourse – an area used by people playing many other sports.

As the club continued to grow, it built a small nine-hole golf course at Shouson Hill in Deep Water Bay.

In 1911, the club succeeded in securing the use of enough land in Fanling, New Territories, for what is known as the 18-hole Old Course.

The club opened its New Course in 1931 but extra land was later leased to allow the expansion of the clubhouse and the building of the 18-hole Eden Course in Fanling, which opened for play in 1970.

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It was also once known as the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club, but formally ended the use of “Royal” in its name in 1996, before the handover.

Today, it is an internationally recognised club, with two clubhouses in Fanling and Deep Water Bay, and three 18-hole courses.

Joining fee: not applicable at the moment.

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