Play it as it lies – Golf in China

traigh-golf-course-towards-second_w600I’m not a golfer – are you?

Here in China the popularity of the game of Golf has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few decades. But (and it is a very big but) in the minds of the laobaixing  (ie the common people) it is a symbol of wealth and often of corruption.   Being a member of any of China’s golf clubs is very, very expensive indeed so there is some rationale behind their views. Indeed, Chairman Mao banned the game after coming into power in 1949, calling it ‘a sport for millionaires’.

Chinese golf course 1Building and maintaining golf courses requires large areas of land and vast amounts of water. As the population of China (1.3 billion, give or take) live on only 10% of the land mass of China – the rest of the country being mountain or desert – it is felt by some that building golf courses is taking up much-needed land and is inappropriate.  Never-the-less the number of golf courses has grown and grown. Beijing, Guangdong, Haikou, Shenzen, Shanghai, Chongqing – you name a city and you’ll discover  they all have several golf courses. In the glitzy shopping malls in all the big cities you will find Golf Shops, selling amazingly expensive clubs, clothing and accessories and some of the most vulgar golf bags you could find on this or any other planet – I’m talking gold faux alligator here!

So when President Xi Jin Ping launched his anti-corruption drive last year, one of the targets was golf club membership. This year members of the Communist Party of China (some 88 million folk) have been banned from (a) using Party funds to buy membership of any golf club, and (b) banned from accepting membership of a golf club as a gift, and needless to say, playing golf during working hours is strictly verboten.                                                                                                                   Furthermore, on 30th March this year, 66 “illegal” golf clubs were summarily closed – that’s approximately 10% of all the golf courses in China – so the powers-that-be are taking it very seriously indeed.

However I think golf will continue to be played here, and increasing numbers of well-to-do Chinese will go abroad to play golf.  Indeed the world-renowned Wentworth Club in England is now owned by a Chinese company which intends to spend mega-bucks in renovating and ‘improving’ the facilities. Both the Union Jack and the Chinese flag are flown at the front entrance to the club!(there has been a bit of a brouhaha about this recently).

Married, as I am, to a Scotsman, I am choosing my words exceedingly carefully from now on. Particularly as he and I  both come from keen golfing families (my late Dad, my mum-in-law, father-in-law, sister and brother-in-law, an aunt or two, not to mention cousins etc) and numerous friends in France, South Africa and the UK are all passionate adherents of the game. MQofS playing golfThe Scots claim Golf as the game THEY invented, and there is very well documented history of golf being played in Scotland for hundreds of years.

R&A St Andrews 1 The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews which was founded in 1754 AD  (a mere 9 miles from our family house in Scotland) is the centre of golf world-wide; laying down the rules, and setting the standards for balls, clubs, courses, and competitions.

What is interesting to me is that China has a long, long history with a game that is very like golf.       Is it… could it…be possible that CHINA invented golf long before the Scots.

Ming Emperor Xuande playing Chuiwan - Chinese Golf

Ming Emperor Xuande playing Chuiwan – Chinese Golf

Way way back,  in 1050 AD, during the Song Dynasty, a game called Chuiwan 捶丸  (chuiwan literally translates as ‘ball hitting’) became very popular. At the time there were several books setting out the rules for the game, and they are remarkably similar to the rules for the game of golf.

Chinese golf 2 The game took place on a specially laid out area, the aim of the game was to hit a small ball into a ancient-golf-in-china-chuiwan-toolsseries of holes, with the holes being spaced out over ground of differing surface thus making some holes more difficult than others;  each player could have as many as ten different ‘clubs’ for hitting various shots, and play had to start from a designated spot – the ji. One particular Emperor, Huizong, was reputed to be a very keen player.

China golf ladiesThe game was played by both men and women but  for some reason it eventually fell out of favour, was no longer played, and became almost forgotten.

Maybe the time has come for a revival.


One final thought – Christmas is almost upon us – if you have a golf mad member of your family  this is an excellent book which would make a very good gift:    9781851689484_1                                                                                                                   ‘The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream‘ by Dan Washburn; available from Amazon and at all good bookshops.


This blog post is respectfully dedicated to Bully in Hermanus, Gill in Plett , Bryan in Chadlington, Eva in Paris, and Hugh in London – golfers all!





About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
This entry was posted in Sport, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Play it as it lies – Golf in China

  1. Bea dM says:

    It’s turning out that the Chinese probably invented lots of things while the West was all wrapped up in its Euro-centric view of history! The Chinese variation seems more environment-friendly, and could turn out to be more politically acceptable if its roots are shown to be home-grown. I’m one of just a few non-golfers in my extended family. I gave it up at the age of fifteen, a “rebel” put off by the snobbishness of the milieu. Later in life I was tempted to take it up again, but at that point couldn’t afford it any longer 🙂 Thanks also for the book suggestion which could turn out to be a godsend!

  2. Sheila Taylor says:

    I’d like to see my brother’s face if I tell him that the Chinese invented golf – aaaagh!

  3. Cooksister says:

    Now that was a smorgasbord of trivia that I did not know! Thank you 🙂 I am not a golfer but remember spending many happy childhood hours trailing after my father as impromptu caddy on the Piesang Valley golf course in Plett. These days, I fully agree with the famous quote that golf is a good walk spoiled (!) and I am a little fed up with the proliferation of golf courses along the Garden Route like mushrooms. In a water-scarce area they are a ridiculous waste of resources. Harumph!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s