‘There are not many golf courses like it in the world’ – Hong Kong Open champion Aaron Rai hopes Fanling is saved from bulldozers
- Englishman says it is one of the few courses where pros have nothing bad to say
- The government is looking at proposals to build public housing on the site
England’s Aaron Rai, the newly crowned Honma Hong Kong Open champion, said the Fanling course is a rare gem in world golf and it would be a shame if the government were to raze the site and build public housing on it.
US Masters champion Patrick Reed joined Rai and other golfers in expressing hope that the Championship course and other fairways are saved, though the American said the decision must be left to the people of Hong Kong.
When asked how he would feel if he were to return to Hong Kong in 10 years and find that the Hong Kong Golf Club course had been turned into buildings, the 23-year-old Rai said: “You know, it would be a real shame if that was to happen.
“We play so many amazing courses on the European Tour, and sometimes the players as a whole are very hard to please and you kind of get mixed reviews about courses week to week.
“But this is one of those rare venues where 99.9 per cent of the people love it. It’s not crazy long. It’s tough,” said Rai, who shot a course record nine-under-par 61 on Friday on his way to a one-stroke victory over Matthew Fitzpatrick in the 60th edition of the tournament.
“You have to think well and you have to play well, and there are not many courses like this in the world, let alone Hong Kong, so that would be a shame.”
Earlier this year, a government-appointed Task Force on Land Supply was given five months to carry out a public consultation to address the shortage of land for housing and economic development. Using the 170-hectare Fanling site, home to three courses, for housing was one of 18 options put forward. The government is expected to announce the results of the consultation in December.
The site has been run by the HKGC since 1911 under a government lease that expires in August 2020. The government’s decision could affect up to HK$6 billion worth of corporate memberships.
In May, then club captain Arnold Wong said the club would fight to protect all its courses and would not accept any proposal to redevelop even part of the grounds.
Reed said he would be disappointed if Hong Kong were to lose the Fanling golf course.
“Personally I love the golf course,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed coming here to play in the golf tournament ...the fans, the people, the golf course, everybody around here have been welcoming and friendly so for me I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t still here.
“But at the same time, I want Hong Kong to do whatever is best for Hong Kong. At the end of the day, whatever is good for Hong Kong, the best decision needs to be made.”
India’s Arjun Atwal, who has been playing in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and has an intimate knowledge of the course, expressed surprise when informed of possible plans to tear it down.
“Really?” said Atwal, who has won on the USPGA Tour. “I would be terrible. Why would that happen? It would be sad. This is one of my favourite golf courses and probably one of my favourite tournaments in the world. So it would be a shame.”
Another Indian, Shubhankar Sharma – the European Tour’s rookie of the year last season – said: ‘I hope it doesn’t happen [that they raze it], that would be really sad.
“It’s a fantastic course and all the players really love coming back here, so I really hope that doesn’t happen and we keep coming back. It’s a wonderful course, not long, but very, very challenging and all the players love it.”
Hong Kong’s Matthew Cheung Hung-hai, the top amateur over the weekend and the only local golfer to make the cut, said the Fanling site is key to the development of golf in the city.
“It would be very sad. As it is there are only six golf courses in Hong Kong and for someone like me who really loves this game, I want it to continue to bloom,” said Chueng. “If you take away golf courses it gives less opportunity for people to play. I feel like the golf club have done really well, especially these last couple of years, to open it up and let locals play.