China has closed more than 100 golf courses and ordered 507 others to make changes in the past five years as part of a clampdown on illegal land and water use, according to the top economic planner.
The National Development and Reform Commission said on Sunday that the golf courses were guilty of illicit behavior, including illegally using large amounts of arable land or natural reserves, and extracting groundwater from prohibited areas.
The campaign, launched by 11 central government departments in April 2011, is aimed at cracking down on the illegal construction of golf courses.
Of the 683 courses that were in operation nationwide before the crackdown, 111 have been closed, 18 have been ordered to return and restore illegally occupied land, and 47 were ordered to stop construction or business activities, the NDRC said.
All provincial areas in China except for the Tibet autonomous region have golf courses, according to an unnamed NDRC official who was quoted in a commission news release. There are particularly large numbers in North, East and South China as well as in Yunnan province - areas with either a booming economy or a large inflow of tourists.
The central government issued a ban on the construction of new golf courses in January 2004 and suspended those already under construction.
However, the ban largely fell flat, and the authorities were forced to launch a targeted campaign in 2011 to crack down on the illegal behavior, the official said.
"After the crackdown, golf courses no longer occupy farmland, forests, core or buffer areas in natural reserves or water source areas," the official said.
However, the campaign has left some issues unsolved, with some golf courses that were closed facing problems such as unpaid wages and unreturned membership fees.
Yue Haihui, former manager at Renji Golf Course in Beijing's Huairou district, said his club was ordered to return the land it used due to its proximity to water source areas, which has effectively resulted in its closure.
"It caught us totally unprepared. It left us owing millions of yuan to our employees and members," he said.
Tan Jianxiang, a sports sociology professor at South China Normal University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, said the central government should provide a regulation to clarify how a golf course can be established legally.