‘Why can’t they find land elsewhere to build their houses?’: tour stars question government plans to bulldoze Hong Kong Golf Club
Frequent visitors and former champions say it would be tragic to lose unique course
High-profile Hong Kong Open champions are incredulous the government is seriously considering taking some – if not all – of Hong Kong Golf Club for housing redevelopment.
Four-time winner Miguel Angel Jimenez almost choked on his trademark cigar when told the historic Fanling courses could be put to the bulldozer to make way for 5,000 homes.
Champion in 2010 Ian Poulter said it would be “simply tragic” if the courses were lost, while a spokesman for four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said he would not comment on a political issue, but made his opinion clear on golf courses being threatened.
The debate over resuming private recreational sites is raging again, with the Hong Kong Golf Club in the crosshairs, but a Task Force on Land Supply has again postponed discussion on carving up one – or all three – of the courses on the 170-hectare site at Fanling.
The charismatic and highly popular Jimenez said: “Why can’t they find land elsewhere to build their houses? Who will live in the new houses? People from the other side of the border, no? But these are not local people.
“The Hong Kong Golf Club is an amazing golf club.
“The composite course at Fanling is one of the finest tournament courses in the world. It’s a golf course that you have to play sensibly to score well and we need courses like that on the European Tour,” said the veteran Spanish player.
“I feel so sorry for the members at Fanling because it’s a totally unique place. I always love to come back to play in Hong Kong because I absolutely love the golf course.”
Englishman Poulter, a regular visitor to Fanling, was also aghast, saying: “If it happened it would be tragic. Simply tragic.”
Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello has plenty of unfinished business at Fanling, having finished runner-up for the past two years.
“It would be really sad to lose such a wonderful golf course,” Cabrera Bello said. “It’s a golf course that defines time.
“The tournament is always popular with European Tour players, and the winning score is never very high because the golf course is so challenging. The golf course suits all types of player.”
Sean O’Flaherty, manager of 2011 champion Rory McIlroy, said the world number 11 would not comment on political issues.
“If we owned the golf course we would obviously have a comment, but as a rule we do not comment on political matters,” he said.
“Would we rather see the golf course there? Absolutely.”
Former US PGA champion Rich Beam, who has played in the Hong Kong Open and now works as a TV commentator, said: “It would be a tragedy to lose the three golf courses at Fanling.”
“The composite course is one of the most iconic golf courses in the history of the game – it’s withstood the test of time.
“All of the courses at Hong Kong Golf Club are really good, and even though they are not long they are up to the standards of the modern tour player. I don’t think you ask for anything better than that.
“If the government was to come in and take that away and not truly look at the historical significance of the golf courses – when they were built, how they were built, and where they were originally located, that would be a shame.
“And if you take any of it away, where do you stop? If you take away a few holes, then another few holes and ...
“I would be personally devastated if it goes as it’s one of my favourite places in the world to go to play golf and to visit. The hospitality, the golf courses – every single thing about the Hong Kong Golf Club is amazing.
Nick Dougherty played in the Hong Kong Open several times before trading his clubs for the microphone and now works as a commentator for Sky TV.
“It would be really disappointing to lose such a wonderful golf course, a course that has such a rich history in a wonderful part of the world,” Dougherty said.
“It’s actually a wonderful green lung, so from a health perspective and from a nature perspective it would be tragic to lose that to housing.”