Experts called for a lifting of the ban on golf course construction in China, as nearly 600 courses are running without government approval.
Su Derong, head of the golf course committee under the China Golf Association, said there are about 600 18-hole courses on the mainland, but less than a dozen had been approved and given business licenses before the central government introduced a ban on golf course construction in 2004.
Su said the concern for farmland protection and water conservation has been overdone in this case, and the downright prohibition should be replaced with standard procedures and clear criteria to evaluate applications and issue certificates.
Some golf course projects received an implicit go-ahead from local water resources or forestry authorities, Su said, suggesting developers should be encouraged to bid on desolate land.
Yan Jinming, a land management professor at Renmin University of China, said the construction of high-end golf courses has become a common strategy for officials to boost the local image and attract potential investors.
The close connection between some local authorities and developers has crippled the ban on golf course construction, which is somewhat impractical due to the growing demand from the booming golf industry in China, Yan said.
He said authorities should consider easing the ban, and in the meantime adopt strict screening measures to make sure approvals are issued with full consideration of environmental protection and economic sustainability.
In the long term, golfing should be made more affordable to the broader public in China, instead of being a luxurious privilege for the rich, he added.
Zhang Qun, operation director of a golf course company in Beijing, said the status quo will continue, with golf courses running in violation of the government ban, and golfing will still be deemed as part of a lavish lifestyle.
"In the United States, it is a popular sport enjoyed by a wide circle of people. That scenario is unimaginable for the Chinese, because China has very limited land but a huge population," Zhang said.
According to Zhang, customers pay more than 1 million yuan ($167,000) for membership at the company.
However, as golf is set to return to the Olympic Games in 2016, China may invest more on the training of golf players, in the hopes of producing more world champions.
A few people from modest households may have a chance to attend the training, with deep-pocketed sponsors footing the bill. Meanwhile, the golf industry in China will continue to expand, despite the ban on course construction, Zhang said.