In addition to IKEA putting the kibosh on communal naps at its Beijing store, another beloved leisure activity in China has been subject to a sweeping crackdown in recent weeks: golf.

China’s relationship with the slow-paced sport beloved by Celebrex-poppers and pop stars is far more complicated than the now-forbidden act of catching some z’s on a model EKTORP sofa — and it isn’t necessarily golf itself that the Chinese government has an issue with. It’s newly developed golf courses that have prompted an aggressive nationwide campaign to crush immaculately manicured, and resource-intensive, putting greens across the People’s Republic.

Here’s the deal: In 2004, the building of new golf courses was classified as verboten by the Chinese government due largely to environmental concerns (more on that in a bit). But as Bloomberg reports, roughly two-thirds of China’s 600 golf courses have materialized over the last decade, popping up across the country in an insidious manner — just think of them as the kudzu of Chinese luxury developments. Taking a new, hard-line stance on the long-ignored issue, the Ministry of Land and Resources has now ordered 66 of these contraband golf resorts — about 10 percent of Chinese courses – to close, including a trio of clubs in Beijing.

Additional properties are likely to be shuttered as well including those on the island of Hainan, which had been previously considered immune to any golf-related governmental drama.

As mentioned, China’s relationship with golf is complicated — so complicated that books have been written about it.

During the reign of Mao Zedong, the slowly catching on sport of Scottish extraction was deemed “bourgeois” and subsequently banished in the Communist state starting in 1949. The small number of existing courses were redeveloped or repurposed. In the mid-1950s, one of China’s most popular erstwhile golf clubs was reborn as the Shanghai Zoo.

In the years immediately following the death of Chairman Mao, golf — and golf courses — began to slowly but surely re-emerge across China. The country’s first “modern day golfing establishment,” the 18-hole, Arnold Palmer-designed course at Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club near Zhongshan City, opened for play in 1984.

While it has grown to be an extremely fadish — and, like all things Chinese, rapidly expanding — activity over the past three decades complete with well-attended annual tournaments and celebrity players of international renown such as Liang Wen-Chong and Shanshan Feng, golf hasn’t enjoyed the proletarian status as other sporty Chinese pastimes such as table tennis. Golf is prohibitively expensive and the miniscule segment of the Chinese population who can afford the luxury of hitting the links consists largely of business tycoons, governmental officials and exceptionally well-heeled “Caddyshack” fans. Foreigners also regularly haunt Chinese golf clubs.

As Adam Minter writes for Bloomberg, the ubiquitous presence of public officials at uber-exclusive Chinese golf clubs is largely responsible for the recent round of illicit greenway closures. Forget adultery or other scandal-making indiscretions; one of the largest sins that a public official can commit under the watch of corruption-obliterating President Xi Jinping is to set a cleated foot on a hoity-toity golf course.

Even worse are local officials who, in flagrant defiance of the central government, have backed large-scale golf developments for personal gain. In Guandong province, home to the Chung Shan Hot Spring Golf Club and numerous other established clubs, including the 216- hole Mission Hills Golf Club that will soon host the inaugural Shenzhen Invitational, there’s even a public hotline that allow citizens to snitch on government officials seen teeing off, hobnobbing at the 19th hole or wheeling and dealing with real estate developers.

On the same day that the closure of 66 Chinese golf clubs made headlines, it was also announced that Wang Shenyang, a member of the Ministry of Commerce, was under investigation for playing golf.

There’s also the fact that Chinese golf club developments, many of them massive, multi-course affairs, are claiming increasingly rare arable land that could be used to grow crops that would help to feed a population that continues to grow at a breakneck speed. In China, a country that’s home to 20 percent of the total global population but only 7 percent of the world’s fresh water supply, golf course water conservation isn’t standard practice, and neither is eschewing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on these sprawling lush landscapes.

Elaborates Bloomberg:

Golf courses can have a negative impact on the local environment, both as a result of their extensive water demands, and — in places with lax regulatory regimes, like China — the chemicals and pesticides used to keep them green. China faces water shortages and high levels of soil contamination even without golf. In 2012, the city’s water consumption levels were 70 percent greater than its supply. To meet those needs, China is building a massive series of canals to divert water from the country’s wet south to its arid north, a project with uncertain environmental consequences. Meanwhile, close to 20 percent of China’s soil is polluted, and the government is actively trying to control pesticide use as a means to curb it. Golf courses only make the task harder.
Former Shanghai resident Dan Washburn, the (American) man who wrote the aforementioned book on Sino-golf weirdness —“The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream” — has reported extensively on the environmental impact of golf course landscaping and the sport’s “banned but booming” status in China. In a recent interview with, he explains that it’s too early to tell if enforcing the 2004 ban and closing hundreds of golf courses will ultimately benefit both the environment and agriculture. Will the 66 golf courses that have been forced to close actually stay closed? And if so, will the land be reverted back to farmland?

"This goes far beyond golf,” explains Washburn. “But the golf industry, especially the construction side with its ties to the real estate and luxury markets, is definitely wrapped up in all of this."

Via [Bloomberg], [CNN]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Hole in none: Chinese government closes 66 golf courses
Will China's water-hogging golf developments be converted into much-needed farmland?