China has more rich people than ever, so is golf, a sport that is often considered the pastime of the wealthy, getting popular there? Not really, China’s millions of millionaires have not taken to golf.
Entrepreneurs have foreseen the rise of China’s elite class and have for a decade been trying to give golf some momentum in the world’s largest population. There are more major golf events held there than ever, with major golf stars stopping by to play exhibitions and a few Chinese golfers making appearances at international tournaments, reported the Diplomat on Thursday.
But golf is neither catching on as a spectator sport nor a participatory sport in China, and the biggest cause may be the lack of golf courses. What few courses the country had were eradicated and converted to farmland when the Communist Party took over in 1949. That ban was not rescinded until the 1980s, and in 2004 the state once again imposed a moratorium on building new courses.
There are a few thriving clubs despite the deterrence, but they are generally clustered in areas where Western expats live or near major resort areas. The Mission Hills Group, the largest golf enterprise in China, has 22 courses, including 10 on Hainan Island, a popular tourist destination for the Chinese. The group’s head, Ken Chu, is optimistic about the future of golf in China.
“Golf is a game that the Chinese believe we can excel at, because it's more an IQ game than a muscular game,” Chu told the Wall Street Journal in a recent profile. “I mean, how often do you get a Yao Ming (the former 7-foot-6 NBA star) becoming a national hero? But golf, no matter what height you are or how much you weigh, is still mostly mental.”
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Chu’s optimism isn’t shared by many, nor is it backed by the raw data. There are fewer than 1 million golfers in China, a tiny fraction of the country’s 1.3 billion people, and only 600 courses to play on. A round of golf costs $100 to $150, far too expensive for a country where the per capita income is around $6,000, the Diplomat reported.