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Corruption taints reputation of golf

By Bai Ping | China Daily | Updated: 2015-04-16 07:48

Hobbies, it is said, reflect the innermost desires of people and help them fulfill their unmet needs. So it's not strange that golf will often trigger criminal behavior when corrupt officials take to swinging a club.

Amid the current crackdown on illegal courses in China, details of bribery, extortion and self-indulgence involving fallen golfing officials have surfaced, further damaging the reputation of the sport that is long perceived by many as an elitist pastime of the moneyed class.

One of them, Gu Xiang-ling, a deputy planning director in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, before he was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison for taking bribes, reportedly played golf at almost all the courses in China, accompanied by his mistresses and a real estate developer who picked up the bills.

Hao Heping, a former director of medical devices of the China Food and Drug Administration who claimed his body would" ache all over" if he missed his Sunday game, blamed his hobby as a main factor that pushed him over the cliff.

Hao was accused of demanding that medical equipment manufacturers pay for memberships whenever he found a course to his liking. In 2007, Hao was convicted of accepting bribes totaling nearly 1 million yuan ($163,000), more than half involving his golf pursuit.

As corruption worsened over the years, bribery sums for golfing officials also soared. In 2013, Han Jiang, a top lawmaker in southern Shenzhen, adjacent to Hong Kong, was charged with accepting bribes totaling nearly 6 million yuan, including 1.85 million yuan for golf memberships.

For Chinese golf, the timing of revelations that link the game with corruption couldn't have come at a worse time, as officials now try to distance themselves from any activities suspected of extravagance and deals between power and money that could put them in the crosshairs of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

Top Chinese courses are often built in beautiful, green surroundings in collaboration with housing developers. To prevent them from becoming a potential threat to the natural environment and farmland, the government has taken harsh measures, including bans on unauthorized courses, and hefty taxes on course maintenance and golf equipment.

But until recently, local officials had chosen to ignore the curbs in their quest to have more golf courses to attract investors and tourists. Their drive seems to have buckled amid the anti-corruption campaign and the government-enforced closure of dozens of illegal golf courses nationwide that began last summer.

The number of Chinese golfers, defined as those who have played at least one round in the past year, has swollen to more than 1 million and keeps increasing. The toughening of the government stance has caused confusion and anxiety because only a small number of golf courses have obtained formal approval and many are running on unregulated turf.

But most golfers will probably agree that the exodus of corrupt officials from the verdant fairways will eventually help the besieged sport get back on its feet in China.

Contact the writer at dr.baiping@hotmail.com

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