Social divide measured at golf courses| Elaine Yu 13 Jun 2018
Sprawling greens and woodland have made Fan Ling golf course a favorite with homegrown and international stars, but it is under threat after being listed for potential housing development.
As the government seeks space solutions for a lack of affordable homes, the club argues that sacrificing a world-class venue would be short-sighted move. But campaigners say the prime spot should not remain a playground for the wealthy elite.
The colonial-era course is part of the Hong Kong Golf Club and has hosted the Hong Kong Open, a mainstay of the European and Asian Tours, since 1959.
Leading players, including former world No 1 Rory McIlroy, Miguel Angel Jimenez and local star Tiffany Chan, have spoken out against bulldozing the site, one of 18 options the government lists for affordable housing.
"Losing even one golf course would severely impact Hong Kong's ability to develop talent," says Hong Kong Golf Club general manager Ian Gardner.
The Fan Ling complex is an oasis of old trees and diverse wildlife. The oldest of its three 18-hole courses was built in 1911 on land that included centuries-old graves of local clans, whose descendants now skirt greens to pay tribute to ancestors. Its clubhouse features a men-only bar and a members' lounge where old photos and maps adorn the walls.
The club faithful say history justifies its survival. "The trees and all the layout and the history behind it - it's irreplaceable," says Tim Tang, 32, a former pro golfer who coaches at the club.
Some critics say the government is under-using space.
They argue there is plenty of space for affordable housing without touching green areas and that a small group of real estate giants prioritize building profit-making, upmarket units.
But for others the golf course is fair game and a visceral symbol of local inequalities, set against the backdrop of spiraling property prices and rents that force many people into tiny homes.
Chanting "The grass roots don't want elite golf courses," protesters filled in holes at Fan Ling in March using mud a nearby village where demolition work has begun for a controversial development.
Joining one of the many private sports and recreational clubs can cost hundreds of thousands, even millions.
And playing a round at Fan Ling is beyond most people. Non-members can use Fan Ling Monday to Friday but must pay a fee of HK$1,100 for 18 holes. A corporate membership for the Hong Kong Golf Club goes for HK$17 million, says an agent.
The club refuses to divulge joining fees or the length of its waiting list but says monthly fees for members to access its two properties range from HK$700 to HK$3,000.
Private clubs are too exclusive and depend on a "system of privileged memberships," says Green Sense researcher Mark Mak. He says low government rents mean the golf club is "subsidized by public resources while not serving public interests."
He proposes partially redeveloping Fan Ling for housing or turning it into a park or public golf course.