Jan 24

Asia’s Second Thoughts About Golf

Olympics Hit a Snag, China Flips on Growing the Game

It sounds like a good cliche to say that it’s never too early to start thinking about the next Olympics. I disagree with that, partiularly considering how drama-filled the creation of Rio’s course ended up, and I still don’t like alligators hiding out in the ponds. The 2020 Olympics should be different, though. They will be held in Tokyo, a “with it” city that will probably put on a good show. One major improvement has already occurred. The Japanese delegation already has a golf course, and it’s a nice one, Kasumigaseki Country Club a ways northwest of the city. Japan is no longer a newcomer to the game, and will know what to do. However, they’ve run into a roadblock we see from time to time here in the west., a membership policy that shuts out women. That’s one thing if you’re Augusta. That course might just tell the Olympics to take a hike, but the Japanese want this, and they want it to go well. It’s just one flap in the game of golf as played in Asia right now.

It’s no great impasse, according to those in power at the Country Club. They are fine altering the rules,  if they are asked to do so by the IOC. It may be more difficult putting together a consensus among its 1,000 plus male members. It costs about 70,000 for a membership, and another 35,000 for a full membership. Currently, no women has a full membership, and they can’t play on most days. Hasn’t Japan been paying attention to how well their women are playing on tour these days?

Things take a while to change. The club was founded by a group of 300 wealthy men, and people with ordinary incomes and social rank need not apply. In a world that is often at war with itself at almost every level – between nations, race, class, gender – golf is such a perfect place in which to establish a “peaceable kingdom” of mutual satisfaction.
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At least Japan still gets to play golf. Betwen Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, and others, Asia has looked like a real comer in the international scene. China even went so far as to lift the golf ban that goes all the way back to Mao. That is, until they decided not to, which was last Sunday. The Chinese government has suddenly closed 111 golf courses, added to the 65 closed in Shanghai last March. Where are they going to go with that? There are 10,000 eager young golfers waiting to bust out, and some of them are going to be terrific. Part of the problem is corruption. Investors bought housing land, then quietly converted it into golf courses, or called them parks. The govdernment says it wants to avoid pollutants that golf courses inflict on the landscape. They say that all available land should be farmed, regardless of the fact that the course delivers a tiny fraction of the pollutants than that of the farms. Building courses was outlawed in 2004, and yet the number has tripled since that year.
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Clearly then, all the countries of Asia are not on the same page where golf is concerned. Maybe soon, China will learn that young people spending time on the golf course is likely to decrease their chances of doing something destructive elsewhere, but they’re not ready for that yet.

It is likely, I think, that golf in the 2020 Olympics will work itself out, although I hope it’s a real breakthrough for women, not just a band-aid. And China? Who knows? Asia is still going to be a big presence in the professional golf world, but it may happen in fits and starts in some societies. In the end, competition might finally entice the Chinese. They’re mad about it, and they make sure they’re good at it.

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