China Golf Courses Grow at Record Pace as Developers Ignore Government

China’s ban on unauthorized golf courses failed to stem a record 14 percent increase in such facilities last year as developers circumvented rules aimed at halting the erosion of the nation’s farmland.

The world’s fastest-growing major economy added 60 18-hole courses last year, taking the total to 490, according to a report by Forward Management Group, a golf tour organizer in China. Only 10 of the nation’s golf facilities are licensed, with operators sometimes registering them as country parks or greenbelt areas, state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

The Ministry of Land and Resources banned construction of golf courses in 2004, and the ban will remain in effect until new rules are introduced, Gan Zangchun, deputy land inspector at the ministry, said last month. The Forward Management report highlights the difficulty China faces in stamping out illegal use of land that threatens the country’s ability to feed itself.

“It goes without saying how important it is to comply with the government’s farmland threshold policy to ensure grain security,” said Zhou Li, a professor at the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development of Renmin University of China.

Farmland shrank by 8.33 million hectares in the past 12 years, Premier Wen Jiabao’s top agricultural adviser, Chen Xiwen, said in March. The ruling Communist Party in 2007 set a threshold of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of farmland needed to feed the nation’s 1.3 billion people.

Last year 274,500 mu of farmland was used illegally for projects including golf courses, according to the land inspector’s annual report.

Figures Fudged

China’s farmland per capita is less than half the world average, and one-sixth that of the U.S., according to China Comment, a Communist Party magazine. Actual land loss may be greater than the government’s numbers suggest, as local officials fudge figures and illegal use proliferates.

Golf courses have sprung up all over China, except in Tibet, according to the report by Forward Management, which was published late last month and reported by Xinhua yesterday. “The golf tourism market prospect continues to be rosy after regular golf players jumped 11 percent to 330,000 people last year,” it said.

The central government failed to effectively curb the construction of the courses partly because of local government interests, the land ministry said in December 2009 on its web site, without elaborating. Some courses skirted supervision and won approval under the name of “forest parks,” it said.

Local governments made 2.7 trillion yuan ($415.5 billion) in 2010 selling rights to farmland for non-agricultural purposes, with total land sales constituting 60 to 70 percent of revenue, according to Landesa, a Seattle-based organization that works to secure land rights for the poor.

--Yidi Zhao in Beijing. Editors: Ben Richardson, John Brinsley

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Yidi Zhao in Beijing at +86-10-6649-7575 or yzhao7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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