For Mr Washburn golf is symbolic not only of China’s economic rise but also of “the less glamorous realities of a nation’s awkward and arduous evolution from developing to developed: corruption, environmental neglect, disputes over rural land rights and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor”.
He tackles these great themes indirectly, by interweaving the stories of three men whose lives were affected by the golf boom. One is Mr Zhou, whose rise from peasant to professional golfer is, as Mr Washburn puts it, “the stuff of movies”. Hugely talented but utterly skint, Mr Zhou struggled for years to make a living playing a rich man’s game. He travelled to tournaments on slow trains because he could not afford to fly and slept in sordid flophouses miles from the courses.
When he earned enough to buy a flat in Chongqing, he urged his parents to come and live with him. They would be able to rest after 60 years sweating in the fields, he said. Finally they agreed, and came and filled his flat with live roosters. But they were homesick for their dirty village. As soon as their son flew away for a tournament, they went home to their friends and their corn. Anecdotes like this bring China to life in a way that outlandish-but-true statistics—some 250m peasants have moved to Chinese cities—cannot.
The book’s other main characters are Martin Moore, an American who builds golf courses, and Wang Libo, a lychee farmer whose land is bulldozed to make way for one. Both tales are as gripping as they are revealing.
Read the rest: “Golf in China: Birdies, bribes and bulldozers“