Read an exclusive Forbidden Game excerpt on Shanghaiist

The $40 million Chinese golf course (that’s now underwater)

It’s been 10 years since the Chinese government made building new golf courses illegal. And, over the course of those 10 years, no country has built more golf courses than China. The reason local officials are willing to skirt Beijing’s ban is simple: money. When land-hungry developments like golf resorts come to town, local governments profit mightily — because, in China, local governments own the land. And the flow of money doesn’t stop once the land deal is settled, either. To keep projects moving, and the “Beijing golf police” at bay, palms repeatedly need to be greased. It can add up.

Of course, there are times when problems don’t get worked out, regardless of how much money gets thrown at them. A prime example was a monster project funded by a billionaire real estate tycoon, one of the richest men in China. He had dreams as big as his bank account, and set his sights on a prime piece of land, a spot so beautiful that it could have been part of a national park. It had everything – steep cliff faces, stunning mountain views from almost every angle and, at the center of it all, a large meandering lake that would bring water into play on nearly every hole. He hired one of the world’s most celebrated golf course architects to draw up a signature design. And he was busy buying up decaying resorts all over the area. He hoped this would be the first of as many as six golf courses he’d build there. Big numbers like this were becoming common in China – everyone was chasing after Mission Hills, the 12-course mega-complex in Guangdong province that Guinness World Records anointed the largest golf facility in the world.

But to the experienced eye of the American project manager overseeing construction, problems lurked at the site from the start. Right where the course’s first three holes would be, there was a well-established village, whose residents also claimed some ownership of various other sections of the course. When the project manager first arrived, he noticed several villagers had begun to build new, taller homes – a sure sign they were trying to score larger relocation settlements. He could tell these villagers were well informed, and canny. They weren’t going down without a fight.

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