Drive to play golf puts pressure on land

BEIJING/Kunming – Despite the fact that the construction of new golf courses has been strictly forbidden since 2004, new courses nestled between luxury villas have continued to appear across China, especially in the less-developed western regions, said a senior official.

“In order to speed up economic development, authorities in less-developed areas are facing a dilemma between urban construction and land protection,” said Li Jianqin, head of the Law Enforcement and Supervision Administration under the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Li said at a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday that, between January and June, about 8,700 hectares of land was illegally used in western parts of China – a year-on-year increase of nearly 51 percent.

Across the country, a total of 18,533 hectares of land was illegally used during the first half of the year – nearly 15 percent more than was used during the same period last year. This included 6,267 hectares of former arable land, according to statistics unveiled at the press conference.

The construction of golf courses was one of the main illegal uses of the land but other uses included the building of roads, railways and water irrigation facilities.

The new golf courses were seen as a way to boost tourism and push up GDP, Li explained.

In 2004, the central government imposed a moratorium on the construction of golf courses, and, in the same year, the building of luxury villas was also banned by the State Council in a bid to protect land resources.

However, the country’s booming golfing industry has consistently challenged the moratorium.

A property seller, who refused to reveal her name from Tengchong International Golf Course in Tengchong, Yunnan province, said on Tuesday that membership of the facility could be obtained by buying a villa at a price of about 2,000 yuan ($312) per square meter more than the average price of 3,000 yuan per square meter across the county.

“Many golf courses are making profits through real estate selling,” said Yan Jinming, professor of land management at Renmin University of China.

The other golf courses in Tengchong, which have illegally occupied 187 hectares of land since the end of 2009, have been shut down under the supervision of the Ministry of Land and Resources this year.

Yang Zhengxiao, chief of Tengchong government, told China Daily on Tuesday that the local government approved the projects to attract investment and boost tourism.

Another 15 golf courses that had been under discussion in the county were part of a plan to turn Tengchong from a tourist destination into an entertainment center before the land watchdog clamped down on illegal construction, said a former official from the information office of Tengchong, who refused to be named.

With only 10 legal golf courses, nearly 600 golf courses had been illegally built and operated across China as of the end of 2010, People’s Daily reported in June.

In light of a shrinking inventory of arable land in China, construction of a 50-hectare golf course is too extravagant, Yan said, adding that at least 3,000 cubic meters of water has to be used every day just to keep the grass growing.

As people in China become richer, the country is providing a huge potential market for the golfing industry.

It is estimated that China has at least 20 million potential golfers, with the golfing industry netting a whopping 60 billion yuan in 2009.

Li from the Ministry of Land and Resources said the discussion of regulations for the golfing industry will be put on the agenda of 11 related departments.

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