China is shutting down this billionaire’s golf courses amid fears the sport breeds corruption

Wang Jianlin.

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Wang Jianlin.
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REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Two luxury golf courses have been ordered to shut down in China, where the sport has been declared an elitist “sport for millionaires.”

In a notice published on its website, Fusong County ordered the Changbaishan International Tourism Resort to shut down its golf courses. It did not give a reason for the closure.

The statement said the order came on September 9, but was only published on the county government’s website last Friday.

The Changbaishan resort is owned by the Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese real estate conglomerate founded by billionaire Wang Jianlin. As of Tuesday, Forbes listed Wang as the richest man in China with a net worth of $31.4 billion (£23.7 billion).

The 21 square kilometre resort boasts one 18-hole golf course, one 36-hole golf course, 43 ski slopes, luxury hotels, a tourist town, and ski cabins, Wanda’s website said. The golf courses were designed by American golfer Jack Nicklaus and architect Robert Jones. The tourist town has a theatre and hot spring bathhouse, and the hotels include chains from the Park Hyatt, Westin, Sheraton and Holiday Inn.

It’s unclear whether these other sections of the resort will also be made to shut down. According to Wanda’s website, the Changbaishan resort is one of the real estate group’s first forays into national tourism.

One of the Changbaishan International Resort's golf courses, as seen in the Wanda Group's promotional video.

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One of the Changbaishan International Resort’s golf courses, as seen in the Wanda Group’s promotional video.
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Dalian Wanda Group

Golf has long been regarded unfavourably in China. Mao Zedong, the leader of the country’s Communist Party and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, banned the sport in 1949 after dismissing it as a “sport for millionaires.”

In 2015, President Xi Jinping banned Communist Party officials from playing golf in an effort to crack down on corruption. Golf remains on the list of the party’s disciplinary violations and is often cited in corruption cases, Reuters reported.

“Like fine liquor and tobacco, fancy cars, and fancy houses, golf has become a public relations tool that businessmen use to ‘hook’ officials,” the official newspaper of China’s anti-corruption agency declared in an April 2015 editorial. “The golf course is gradually turning into a place where they trade money for power.”

There is no suggestion that the order to shut down Wang’s golf courses is in any way related to corruption. In January, China’s state planning commission said it had shut down 111 out of the country’s 683 golf courses.

The news of Changbaishan’s order to close comes days before China’s 19th Communist Party Congress on October 18, a massive meeting for the country’s leadership which takes places every five years. Pundits expect President Xi Jinping to further consolidate his power in the upcoming congress.