Enjoyed by business and political leaders around the globe, this sport became an illegal thrill for some of China’s ruling elite. Last year, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party banned its more than 88 million members from playing golf. Last September, more than 60 state employees were punished for violating that rule by spending public funds on golf.
Now, the ban has been lifted against golf, which is soaring in popularity following its acceptance into this summer’s Rio Olympic Games.
At the time of last year’s ban, the government linked the sport to its negative image of being a setting for shady business deals. The ban also came as President Xi Jinping was leading a ruthless anti-corruption campaign.
Even during the communist revolution, Mao Zedong denounced golf as a “sport for millionaires.” In 1949, it was outright banned in China.
Nonetheless, the sport maintained a presence in China. Golf grew in popularity during the 1980s in the wake of social and economic reforms initiated by former leader Deng Xiaoping. Later attempts to slow it down proved futile.
Following a 2004 law that banned new golf courses from being built, local authorities looked the other way as more courses began to grow along with the tourism profits they brought. By 2015, the number of Chinese golf courses had more than doubled.
Although the lift of the ban on golf may come as a breath of fresh air to some in the CCP, they are still barred from accepting golf course memberships or other golf-related perks as gifts. Those who try to navigate the ban may suffer a fate worse than that of Lin Chunsong. This vice mayor of a southern town in China got sacked after government officials found he was playing “excessive golf,” while paying “suspiciously discounted” membership fees.