Golf In China

Charles McGrath in the Sunday NY Times' new sports magazine:

Golf has now replaced karaoke as the preferred way of entertaining business clients.

What all this means, though, is that golf hasn't evolved in China: it has arrived more or less full-blown, in its high-end and even slightly decadent form. If you think of the country as a kind of golf laboratory, it's one that skipped over all the populist experiments — the developmental stage of public links and pitch 'n' putt and little rural nine-holers — and went straight to the exclusive clubs and the gated golf course communities whose manicured fairways are lined with McMansions. There are no munis, just a handful of daily-fee courses, and the membership at most clubs would set you back more than it would at Winged Foot.

Officially the Chinese government appears to be ambivalent about golf, which it eradicated, along with other vestiges of Western luxury and elitism, in 1949. In Shanghai, for example, where the British introduced golf to the Chinese in the 19th century and where the most famous club, Hung-Jao, was taken over by the municipal authorities and turned into a zoo, government officials are still discouraged from playing. Many do, anyway. They just use assumed names.

It has been said that if Hu Jintao, the country's president, were ever photographed holding a club, a million new golfers would come leaping out of the closet. Occasionally you also hear that China is in danger of turning into Myrtle Beach, S.C., with more courses than there are players to keep them profitable. But you would never think so from visiting Chinese clubs, which teem with golfers from dawn to dusk. At Mission Hills, the country's largest golf complex, outside the city of Shenzhen, people play under the lights until two in the morning.