China’s Communist Party listed playing golf as a violation of discipline for the first time in its revised disciplinary code that was released on 21 October 2015. The prohibition applies to all eighty-eight million party members.
The Party’s most recent crackdown on golf and golf courses began in 2004. The sport had been considered bourgeois and counter-revolutionary in the first decades following the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, but grew rapidly in popularity with the newly moneyed during the 1980s and 1990s. Golf courses have a huge environmental impact, especially in areas where water resources are scarce. However, in defiance of the 2004 ban, the number of golf courses in China continued to grow to more than 600 in 2015.
Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption teams have taken note. In March 2105, the National Development and Reform Commission announced the shutting down of sixty-six golf courses in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing and across twenty provinces. In Guangdong province, which boasts the world’s largest golf facility, the Mission Hills Golf Club, officials were banned from playing golf during work hours in December 2014. A vice mayor of Wuyishan city in south-eastern Fujian province, meanwhile, was sacked in September 2015 for belonging to a golf club and playing the game when he should have been at work.
In early April 2016, the Discipline Inspection and Supervision News 纪检监察新 , the flagship newspaper of the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI), published an article clarifying that ‘playing golf itself is not a wrongdoing’. Government officials will be subject to punishment, however, if they accept membership cards illicitly, use public money to play golf, or play during office hours.