Chinese government shutters golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones

October 18, 2017

Authorities have shut down two high-end golf courses at a resort in northeastern China owned by real estate mogul Wang Jianlin, CNN reports.

The Changbaishan International resort has 18 holes designed by Jack Nicklaus’ group and 36 more by Robert Trent Jones, but the local government posted a notice on its website on Friday announcing the cessation of golf operations at the courses.

According to its website, the resort is the largest tourism project in China. The 21-square-kilometer development opened in 2012 and in addition to the golf courses features a ski resort, a “tourist town” boasting cultural attractions, and several luxury hotels operated by Hyatt, Westin, and Sheraton.

Although as many as a million people in China play golf, the game has become a symbol of capitalist excesses and corruption in the eyes of the Communist Party, a view that extends back to 1949, when Mao Zedong declared golf the “sport for millionaires” and banned it outright.

As China’s economy opened up to the outside world in the mid-80’s, golf reemerged, but a new crackdown began in 2004 and has intensified under President Xi Jinping. The government has closed more than 100 golf courses since 2011, citing illegal land and water use.

Golf has served as a symbol of the political corruption against which President Xi has been waging a forceful campaign, and the president himself stays away from the game; when he visited Mar-a-Lago in April, the White House said in a statement, “it’s safe to say there’s not going to be any golf.” Still, politics are inevitably intertwined with the decision to shut down particular courses and sites operated by particular companies while others are allowed to continue operating. The powerful Dalian Wanda Group, which operates the resort, is one of several privately owned conglomerates that have come under fire in recent months after the national government stepped up scrutiny of their overseas acquisitions.

Wang Jianlin has run into a slew of recent business troubles and conducted a firesale of tourist attractions and hotels in July to improve his company’s balance sheet. He has also lost his standing as China’s richest man. After his net worth fell some 30 percent, to $23 billion, he now ranks fifth, according to the latest Hurun China Rich List.