China drives home message that golf courses are not the fairway to heaven

China drives home message that golf courses are not the fairway to heaven
Sheep graze outside the closed gate to an illegal golf course which was demolished and turned into a cornfield in the suburbs of Beijing, June 16, 2014.

HONG KONG/BEIJING - All that remains of the long fairways and manicured greens at the 18-hole golf course on the outskirts of Beijing are bits of rubble and mounds of mud. In March, Chinese authorities sent in workers to dig up the course and tear down the clubhouse.

Two others across China were also demolished while another was turned into an eco-friendly park and a fifth converted into a tea plantation, suggesting the government could finally be cracking down on developers who have long ignored a 2004 ban on building new golf courses.

The government, which announced the demolitions last month, said its actions served as a warning and an attempt to educate "would-be" violators. A few weeks later, the national auditor joined in, publicly shaming two big state-run enterprises for building golf courses.

"It's a stepped-up campaign for sure," said one Chinese developer, whose company built a course after the ban and who spoke on the condition that neither his name, his firm nor the course be identified.

Nevertheless, developers interviewed by Reuters expressed little concern, saying golf courses were in demand by local authorities who wanted the revenue from selling land while attracting well-heeled visitors to their regions.

The ban was imposed to protect China's shrinking land and water resources in a country home to a fifth of the world's population but which has just 7 per cent of its water. The only place exempt is the southern resort island of Hainan.

Developers had built 639 golf courses across China up to the end of last year, tripling the total since 2004, according to the website of Forward Management Group, a company based in the southern city of Shenzhen that offers a range of golf services in China.

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