As Hong Kong’s housing problems became a hotter issue in the last decade, people started calling for the government to build on the Fanling golf course. The exclusive Hong Kong Golf Club responded in 2015 with a quaintly inept (and barely noticed) publicity campaign, stressing the staggering historic and current importance of the facility purely as a place for hitting little balls around with sticks.
Along with inane details of the pastime in the 1890s, 1930s and so on, the Club proclaimed its love for the common people (‘we let 794 native chappies play here’) and commissioned a botanist to list species of trees. That, members assumed, would do it. After all, it was self-evident that the course would be kept intact because otherwise the All-Asia International Open Masters Birdy Cup Tournament couldn’t happen!
Strangely, the PR effort didn’t resonate with the wider population. Now, in a finely-calculated and cunning example of statecraft, Chief Executive Carrie Lam gambles that sacrificing part of the Fanling Rich Folks’ Playground will mollify public opinion and boost support for her plan to spend half a trillion dollars on reclamation.
It may well be that Fanling is worth preserving. From a sociological point of view, it is a superb example of the adoption of colonial ruling-class trappings by post-colonial elites. Hong Kong’s trashy shoe-shining tycoons and the nouveau-rich Mainlanders are mesmerized by stodgy Edwardian Brit ambiance. (As a ‘thing’ it’s perhaps a bit pastiche – ever been to this place?) At the very least, we should stuff and mount some Club Committees and doormen for the HK Heritage Museum.
It is also a superb piece of parkland. If the various factions (also NGOs, politicians, etc) in this hoo-hah had an ounce of common sense, they would agree to pull the little flags and holes out and convert the whole area into an amazing public green space – what West Kowloon could have been. Instead, everyone is so determined to make their point, this is the outcome that can’t happen.
The Club members will now whine about the loss of some of their precious holes, and the appalling damage this will do to the ‘development of the sport’ and all the fascinating contributions from golfing that the other 99.99% of us fail to notice. They are the cream of Hong Kong society – the wealthiest, most influential, most important, most oh-so elite-ish people in the whole of Asia, and therefore surely the most dazzlingly intelligent and perceptive, right? They could, at any time in the last 20 years, have used their privileged positions to call on Hong Kong’s leadership (or even Beijing) and voice their concerns, as prominent citizens with a sense of civic responsibility, about housing. Just a few of these many powerful and famous figures could have spoken out and endorsed what mere economists, activists and others were saying on the issue. For some reason, they didn’t.
Not for the first time, the late great George Carlin.