Hong Kong government reclaims Fanling Golf Course land for public housing

The Hong Kong Golf Club has been fighting to preserve the course, emphasizing its heritage and ecological value.

Hong Kong government reclaims Fanling Golf Course land for public housing
Miguel Angel Jimenez from Spain hits a shot on the 18th fairway during the final day of the Hong Kong Open Championship at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Hong Kong, China November 18, 2012. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The backstory: It's been no secret that Hong Kong has been dealing with sky-high housing prices for quite some time. On top of that, the current wait time for a public housing unit is over five years. To address this crisis, the government came up with an idea in 2019 – reclaiming property from the Fanling Golf Course to use for public housing projects once its tenancy expires this year. One notable advantage of this plan is that it's government-owned land, so it wouldn't have to wrestle with the challenges of relocating people from private properties. But a lot of people aren’t happy with this proposal at all.

Now, why is Fanling Golf Course such a big deal? It's located right by the mainland border, sprawling over 172 hectares (425 acres), and has a history dating back to 1911. Part of it, known as the Old Course, is Asia's oldest championship golf course and hosts annual international tournaments.

The Hong Kong Golf Club has been fighting to preserve the course, emphasizing its heritage and ecological value. It’s even applied for the UNESCO Asia Pacific Cultural Heritage Conservation Award to underscore its historical and conservation significance. The club has also argued that over 40% of the golf rounds are used by non-members and the public can access facilities like futsal courts and a night-walking trail.

More recently: In July, the Hong Kong Golf Club applied for a judicial review to challenge the green light given for this redevelopment plan. But, the government has said this wouldn't affect its plans to take back 32 hectares (79 acres) from Fanling on September 1, nor would it impact the statutory planning procedures. But no building can actually begin until a decision is made in this review.

The development: The Hong Kong government is moving forward with its plan to reclaim that section from the Fanling Golf Course. To put things in perspective, Hong Kong has eight 18-hole golf courses, compared to Singapore's 14. Three of those are tucked right into Fanling. So, by reclaiming those 32 hectares, eight holes will be under government management. These proposed changes caused events like the Saudi-backed Aramco Team Series in October to reconsider Hong Kong as a host for the event.

The government has agreed to temporarily lend the land back to the golf club from mid-September to mid-November, ensuring that events like the Aramco tournament in October and the Hong Kong Open in November could proceed as planned. But the future of other golfing events is up in the air.

Key comments:

"This is a government that particularly wants to build its foundation on the grassroots," said Carlos Lo, head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It wants to show to the central government that it has the ability to solve livelihood issues."

"A lot of deals are done on the golf course all over the world for business people," said Allan Zeman, a Canadian businessman. "It is wrong in today's climate" to take back part of the golf course, he added, at a time when Hong Kong wants to attract businesses and people from overseas.

"If [the government] overturns its decision after so many consultations and evaluations, it'd be against its integrity and a great setback to the public housing policy," said Sze Lai Shan, deputy director of the Society of Community Organization.