Zach Bergson writes for VICE:

As economic development spread rapidly in the country at the turn of the century, local and provincial governments—who own a significant portion of the nation’s land—saw golf as a way to increase their tax bases and make money, according to Dan Washburn, author of The Forbidden Game. They sold their land to developers, who often avoided the 2004 ban by incorporating courses into high-end living communities.
 
“There’s this saying [in China] ‘the mountain is high, and the emperor is far away,'” Washburn said. “I think that is very true in the golf industry. Beijing may have its rules, but how it’s interpreted in the provinces is a different story.”
 
Richard Zhang, co-founder of the sports marketing company Ocean 24, said he’s witnessed the correlation between housing developers and golf firsthand. While visiting a mansion community in Laiwu, a city in Shandong province, a friend who resides in the city brought him to a suburban neighborhood where a golf course was being built on the property. Anyone who bought a house in the development received a membership. Zhang said construction has been suspended because of the crackdown.
 
Washburn says golf provides a window into the tensions between China’s central and provincial governments.