By Joel Beall/Golf Digest
China has long held an adversarial relationship with golf. The latest move by its ruling Communist party – banning people from joining golf clubs – is an act of war against the sport.
“Obtaining, holding or using membership cards for gyms, clubs, golf clubs, or various other types of consumer cards, or entering private clubs” is now prohibited for Communist party members. If caught, members – totaling 88 million out of the country’s 1.3 billion population – will be punished or kicked out of the party.
This is far from China’s first assault on the game.
In 2004, it was ruled that no further golf courses could be constructed. This edict was largely ignored – according to the BBC, no country built more golf estates than China in the last decade, with the impetus to attract tourists. However, it appears the government is cracking down on this movement: 66 “illegal” courses, roughly 10 per cent of the country’s layouts, were shut down in March.
Also of note was the firing of 60 state employees for using funds on golf-related activities in September, and earlier this month, a mayor was kicked out of office for being caught on a course.
China’s umbrage with golf stems back to the era of Mao Zedong. The communist leader viewed the game as a “sport for millionaires” and believed golf went against the ethos of his party. Due to limited water and agricultural initiatives in reference to China’s abundant population, golf was also seen as a waste of resources.
This new development puts golf in a precarious spot. Just this spring, Tiger Woods signed a $16.5 million deal to redesign two courses in China. In the upcoming weeks, the PGA Tour heads to Shanghai for the WGC-HSBC Champions. Additionally, CNN reported in April that, secretly, the Chinese government is funneling an abundant amount of money into its national golf team for the Olympics.
All of which is to say the game’s growth finds itself in a paradox in the world’s largest country.