Golf Causes Corruption in China

Golf in China has seen a boom since 2000, but the government is taking action to end this popular pass time among the wealth. In China golf has become a symbol of wealth, much like a luxury cars or watches. Over the past 10 years the popularity of the sport has led spawned the building of hundreds of courses around the country. China does not provide for an exact figure, but some within the industry believe that there is over 1000 courses. Yet, the shocking part isn’t about the rapid growth of a sport. The shocking part that golf is illegal in China.

History

Mao Zedong took power in 1949 and brought along his distaste for the sport of Golf. The majority of golf courses in the country at the time were dug up or turned into parks. As Dan Washburn described it during a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong. “Golf is a politically taboo topic and tightly linked to corruption. No golf course is being built in China without government involvement.” Golf has had long standing disapproval from government officials. In 2004 the government once again introduced a ban on new golf course construction in an effort to protect the country’s land and water resources. This ban did little to discourage the growth. Developers and local officials have side-stepped the restrictions by filing applications that designate the projects as sports training facilities, eco-parks or other creative types of developments. “Rule number one when building a golf course: don’t call it a golf course,” Washburn said. While the developers got away with it for a while, the government has begun its which hunt again to close golf courses. 66 golf courses were closed in 2015, and the government is targeting another 100 courses to close.

Golf’s Connection to Corruption

It seems like an illogical thought to relate an entire sport to corruption, but China’s government system has spawned this thought process. To understand how corruption is aniatrical part golf in China, we first need to consider what is required for a golf course. A golf course requires a large undeveloped plot of land. In China the only place that meets this need is farm land. Farmers, repeatedly throughout China’s history, are forced by corrupt officials to give up their land to golf course developers. As a result, a large portion of China’s golf courses are built in areas with extensive poverty. “You have people living in shacks, in the shadow of multi-million dollar mansions. That is an image that in a way encapsulates modern China,” Washburn said. This factor alone has generated a lot of tension around the “rich man’s sport.”

Industry Solution

Sadly, I do not believe there is a solution for Golf in China at this time. Zhao Ziyang was the last high-ranking government official to openly discuss his passion for golf. The conclusion of his political career ended with a dishonorable exit, extensive media criticism, and a house arrest sentence where he spent the last 15 years of his life. Zhao remains the only member of China’s ruling class ever to be photographed enjoying a round of golf. Such a photo, even today, would be considered political suicide. Even though many government officials play the game of golf, none of these officials would ever risk discussing it.

Ryan Cohagen

MBA Candidate 2016