The building of golf courses in China was banned in 2004, with a new crackdown initiated in 2011. However, a number of new golf courses have been created since then, particularly in the region of Guangdong, which has trained some highly successful young golfers in the past decade. The game, if anything, has been expanding in the country and is popular amongst businessmen and officials alike.
In the eyes of many members of the Communist Party, however, this Scottish sport is inherently part of the capitalist system: an exclusive game intended to be played by the extremely rich, utilising a disproportionate amount of land, water, and labour resources towards a leisure activity that can be enjoyed by few.
China has been promoting this new closure in golf courses as a measure meant to fight back against global warming, a measure that makes sense given the pollution problems that have been widespread for years, especially in urban areas.
Other policies have also shown commitment in this area, such as a new environmental police force in the city of Beijing. However, while both policies have attracted a lot of attention – one taking place in the capital of China and another affecting primarily high-profile and high-power officials and wealthier members of society – neither is widespread or structural in nature. The goal of this policy could have more to do with international relations than with environmental concern.
The United States, under Trump, is reaching several tipping points with regard to international relations. A plethora of his executive orders have incited international criticism, including, most recently, a new commitment to his infamous all-alienating wall across the Mexican border. As he faces new criticism for his environmental policies, including censorship of the Environmental Protection Agency and increasing moves towards deregulation, Chinese policy makers may be increasing their environmental policies – as well as the visibility of these environmental policies – in order to intentionally create a contrast between US climate denialism and Chinese green initiatives.
Either way, this could put increased pressure on the US to combat global warming, leading to a fall out in Sino-US relations. However, this policy could also be coming from a more nuanced plan to combat the changing dynamics of environmental strategy in China.
Over the past few decades, population density has been a metamorphosing problem in China, with the one-child policy limiting a generation of children, leaving a disproportionate amount of the population aging and an insufficient amount of working-age adults. Even after the policy was changed, unanticipated consequences continued to emerge, one of which involves the distribution of population density away from cities.
Studies show that the best environmental policies and future development plans include a shift towards higher urban density for the most efficient energy usage. Golf courses can anchor development away from the city, effectively spreading the energy expenditure to more rural areas. With China a leading contributor to global warming, many scientists are concerned about extinction if countries like the US and China are unable to start taking these crucial and well-thought out steps to preserve the environment.
Many defenders of the sport highlight the teaching of golf in public schools, the spread of golf to developing nations and increasing diversity in the top echelons of competition, to show that whatever elitism golf had in the past has vanished. However, in areas of China where resources are poorly distributed across the population, golf can seem excessive, taking up a large amount of land and requiring substantial maintenance and water resources.
President Trump affects this perception as well. Last week he was quoted saying he wanted the ‘full monty’ experience during his planned summer trip to Scotland, specifically requesting to golf at the Queen’s course at Balmoral Castle. This impending image of two world leaders, one of whom is also a famous capitalist, will likely be the most press coverage golf gets this year. New characterisations of golf as egalitarian will pale in comparison to the private golf courses still associated not just with old money but with royalty and nobility.
Is it too late for golf to redeem itself? With 111 closures planned in China, things aren’t looking up for the sport in the East. Within Scotland itself, however, the game has yet to conclude. It is not too late for those who founded the sport to take it back for the everyday citizen, forwarding images of students on budgets golfing in the cold of January to keep the real meaning of the sport, if there is a deeper one, alive.
Image courtesy of Hawaii Golf Club