A tournament in crisis, a golf club in crisis, a city in crisis. Three strikes and you’re usually out and so it was that the European Tour announced it has postponed next week’s Hong Kong Open golf tournament at Fanling. Amid everything else that is happening in Hong Kong, the news solicited little more than a knowing shrug. In reality, it would have been next to impossible to hold the event given the ominous infrastructure and security issues. But among the things the 61st edition of the Hong Kong Open might have done, there are a list of things it could not do. It would certainly not have stopped Beijing from asserting its authority over the High Court ruling on face mask bans or stop the violence and vandalism in the streets. It certainly won’t stop the toxic, pervasive smog of tear gas and, most importantly, it will not fill the massive void of leadership that has pushed this great city to the brink. So why is it even remotely significant that a professional golf tournament has been postponed in Hong Kong? Because landlords are still demanding rent payments and banks are still collecting interest on loans. Because people are still trying to go to work, if they can get there, and some kids are still going to school. Because there is no time out from reality for the rank and file in Hong Kong, where we are all in dire need right now of any distractions and vestiges of normalcy. Of course, how much “normalcy” a golf tournament on a highly contentious golf course can bring is a subject for great debate. But isn’t it wonderful that we are still free to disagree? Enjoy it while you can. Everything about this event and this golf course is layered. Six years ago, there were a few strategic voices calling for the government to take back the sprawling land that the Fanling course sits on for public housing. Almost on cue, then Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, himself embroiled in a land scandal, said that might be a good idea. Houses to be built on Fanling golf course from 2024 After all, it was low-lying populous fruit going after all the “elitist” members of the venerable golf club that annually plays host to one of Asia’s oldest and most prestigious golf tournaments. But if only it was that simple. “Land policy is a very complex issue in Hong Kong,” Christine Loh Kung-wai, chief development strategist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the city’s former undersecretary for the environment, was quoted as saying earlier this year. “Income inequality is not going to be solved by snatching some land from the golf course.” Still, when the dust finally cleared last February, the government announced it would take one-fifth of the 172 hectares as a short-term option to help alleviate the chronic housing shortage. The club had no choice but to sacrifice the century-old Old Course, one of three it operates. Political points scored, Chan had long moved on to another land scandal and in the time-honoured tradition of Hong Kong government accountability, he was eventually kicked further upstairs and named the current Financial Secretary. However, the damage to the club and the tournament was already done and over the past few years the event has struggled to find a title sponsor. Premium Japanese golf club maker Honma signed a two-year deal with an option for the second year that it failed to exercise, so the Hong Kong Golf Association (HKGA), the government’s special events fund and the Fanling club got together to put on the event. A couple of marquee players such as Henrik Stenson, Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed – all major winners – were signed up. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson has ‘no concerns’ about Hong Kong protests Because the club is anxious to maintain an event that along with the Masters at Augusta is the only professional tournament to be held continuously at the same venue for more than half a century, they sent an email to members claiming this is merely a “postponement” and that they are working to reschedule the tournament early next year. Postponed could easily become cancelled because there are few windows of opportunity. Although other events with more community participants, like Oxfam Trailwalker and Clockenflap Music Festival, have also been cancelled, the Hong Kong Open has global visibility. Golf is hardly the most inclusive sport in the world, but it does have a decent following and TV presence. Global audiences watched this tournament and saw Hong Kong and that invaluable exposure is incalculable. Viewers may not be coming here to golf, but come many did. The Hong Kong Open was an integral part of the fabric that put the special into Special Administrative Region and helped define that unique, avant-garde blend of east meets west. What a run it had. Bruised and dinged, it would be a shame if it’s over.