Golf Course Architecture: Issue 55 - January 2019

The lost courses of China Written by Adam Lawrence FEATURE 46 The Chinese government’s crackdown on golf has resulted in some of the country’s highest-profile courses being closed T here was a time, about ten years ago, when China was the only game in town for a number of golf architects. In 2008, when golf development dried up virtually everywhere else, the supply of golf courses in China was growing by an almost unthinkable 20 per cent per year. Several architects moved their operations to the Far East, and more were spending many hours jetting from America, Europe or Australia to Beijing, Shanghai or Hainan Island. What made this more remarkable was that, in theory, new golf development was banned in China by an official directive issued by the central government in 2004. But with political authority divided, in practice, between Beijing and cadres at regional or local level, golf developers found ways to get their projects through. China may appear to Western eyes as a political monolith but in such a huge country there is inevitably conflict between different sources of authority. Central government was opposed to golf development because of its impact on water supplies and agricultural land – it is, after all, not yet sixty years since millions of Chinese starved to death in the Great Famine. Local leaders, though, had different priorities. Golf courses are heavily taxed in China; as a regional leader, to have golf in your territory increases your tax base. And that is even before corruption enters the equation. Since Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and thus leader of the country in 2012, central government has waged an ongoing battle for control of the country, and against corruption in government. Xi vowed to root out both ‘tigers and flies’, which is to say, corruption at all levels. Over 120 senior officials, including Party functionaries, generals and bosses of state enterprises, have been implicated as part of the campaign, but perhaps even more significantly, a total of more than 100,000 officials have been indicted. It is in this context that the anti-golf campaign must be understood. No golf architect has built more courses in China than Brian Curley, so it would be hardly surprising if he had also had more courses closed. On the other hand, no architect, arguably no golfing Westerner, has given as much time and effort to understanding China as Curley has, so if there is or was a secret to avoiding closures, he would be the most likely to have found it. But this latter isn’t the case. Curley has lost several courses, including two of his highest profile Chinese projects, Dalu Dunes and Stone Forest. “My understanding is that most courses that suffered a death were because of a variety of reasons, most notably