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’.
Building 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. The 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.
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.
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.
The game took place on a specially laid out area, the aim of the game was to hit a small ball into a series 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.
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: ‘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!