Workers at a golf club in China. Photo by Ryan Pyle via Foreign Policy.
It sounds like a story from The Onion or a goofy riff on an episode of The Simpsons: China, a country where golf was still banned 25 years ago and few people play the sport, is now building the world's largest golf club, a 22-course development that could more than cover all of Manhattan. What's hard to find funny, however, is that this development is among between 100 and 300 courses planned for a tropical island province known for its natural beauty and serenity."Green lawns and sand traps are now replacing ancient villages and tropical forests on Hainan Island, one of China's most pristine spots," according to Foreign Policy, which recently published a photo essay by writer Dan Washburn and photographer Ryan Pyle about golf development on the island, which the Chinese government aims to turn into a top tourism destination within the next decade.
Thousands of Villagers Displaced
The Mission Hills Group from Hong Kong is behind the controversial and secretive development that will cover as much land as 1.5 Manhattans, a project Washburn calls "a behemoth undertaking that displaced thousands of villagers." To be sure, much of the land they left behind is rocky and difficult to till -- "when it came to growing turf," Washburn writes, "the golf course developers simply dug out a nearby mountain to extract sufficient red earth for topsoil." The 50-square-mile area is not lacking in natural charms, however:
The project occupies land in a region long known as the "lung of Haikou" for its green landscape and fresh air. A Haikou-based environmental NGO was moving forward with plans to turn part of the land into a forest park when the local government suddenly pulled the plug on the two-year-old project in favor of golf.
Endangered Hainan Gibbon at Risk
And it's not only life in the island's tiny villages, where residents live in centuries-old homes made out of the local lava rock, that is at risk. Unchecked development, logging, and slash-and-burn farming have decimated "hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin forest and natural habitat" and pose serious threats to many native plant and animal species, including the Hainan gibbon, one of the 25 most-endangered primates in the world.
All this is technically occurring under a moratorium on golf-course construction, as the sport remains a "prohibitively expensive, elitist pursuit - inescapably linked to corruption in the minds of many" in China, Washburn writes in another recent article about the development, this one for the Financial Times.
"In the years since the government announced its supposed golf course moratorium, the number of courses has nearly trebled to an estimated 600 or so," he adds. "In China, there is always a way." A way to build -- yes, so it seems. But is there also always a way to protect? Via: "China's Golf Obsession," Foreign Policy
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