Orient Golf Shanghai opened in 2003, just one year before the Chinese government passed a law banning construction of golf courses, and just in time to benefit from a golf boom fuelled by China’s newly wealthy business and political classes.
2016 proved to be less lucky for the owners of the 18-hole course in Shanghai’s Songjiang district, however, when local authorities there sent 100 bulldozers across the manicured fairways and greens, according to an account in the Wall Street Journal.
The demolition on March 19th was part of a decision last year to by mainland authorities to close 66 golf clubs, demonstrating the sport’s negative image as the Xi government strives to emphasise a more egalitarian society. Despite the trend toward golf extermination, however, the unrepentant owner of the 18-hole club decided to sue the government for RMB 300 million ($46 million) in damages.
Enforcing Discipline and Protecting the Water Supply
Orient Golf Shanghai’s president decided to go after the government because, while many of the closed courses were illegal, his was said to be fully licensed, and to have passed environmental checks.
“I can’t agree with this order,” Pan told the South China Morning Post. “We acquired all the necessary administrative approvals and we passed the environment assessment by the district’s environment protection bureau.”
Orient Shanghai, which was built on the site of informal fish farms next to the Huangpu river upstream from Shanghai, was closed due to an administrative order from the central government that bans golf courses close to drinking water sources. Before reaching the golf facility, the Huangpu begins its course from Dianshan lake in Jiangsu province, in the centre of one of China’s busiest industrial clusters.
In demolishing the golf facility the Songjiang government reportedly indicated that the site would be reverted to agricultural use as China drives for a domestic food supply capable of feeding its growing population. A study commissioned by China Orient, was said by the club’s owners to indicate that local farmers use 20 to 30 times more fertilizers and pesticides than the golf facility did while it was still in operation.
Pan apparently decided to sue after the local government, which originally licensed the Shanghai Orient facility, agreed to pay the club’s employees and some expenses to close the club, but refused to reimburse shareholders or members.
Golf courses began closing frequently in China from 2014, after a long period of expansion in the sport. In 2015, the Communist Party grouped golf with gluttony as a violation of party discipline, and in March last year, just one day after a top planning body published a list of courses targetted for closure, Wang Shenyang, head of the Ministry of Commerce’s foreign investment and economic cooperation department was put under investigation for “participating in golf and other events organized by companies,” according to a report in Reuters.
China’s Magical Golf Courses Begin to Disappear
But Shanghai Orient was not the only golf facility near China’s commercial capital to close in recent times. Bulldozers were also let loose on the nine-hole West Shanghai Golf Country Club this month and earlier erased the 36-hole Sun Island facility in Shanghai’s Qingpu district. Nine holes were closed at Shanghai International and the city’s first modern golf facility, Shanghai Country Club was also demolished, according to published reports.
While the sudden demolition of these courses is a surprise to many of their owners and members, the fact that China was, until a few years ago, building more golf courses than anywhere else in the world, was also a mystery, following the 2004 ban on new construction.
The now twelve-year-old rule against new courses was passed to conserve arable land for food production and protect water supplies. The conservation law did not reduce the appeal of golf courses as an enhancement to the value of villas and apartments developed nearby, however, and by 2013 more than 639 accredited golf courses had appeared in China, according to the official China Daily.