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A Letter to My Realtor — on the Occasion of Putting My Rural Home & Community on the Market

[Ed. — In April 2021, before we put our New Gloucester home formally up for sale, and moved to the nearby, urban community of Lewiston-Auburn, our realtor, Shawn Boulet of Green Tree Realty, asked me to get him some info on the town of New Gloucester and its school system. This is potentially influential information potential buyers seek before, during and after walk-throughs, he explained. Our home was on the market only 72 hours, a fact only tangentially related to the information I provided Shawn. However, in stumbling upon the essay early in November, it occurred to me that what I wrote ably doubles as a sort of love letter to The NG and the 23 years we resided there.]

Shawn,

I’ve been meaning to get you some info on New Gloucester and the schools — to augment/complement your considerable sales skills, once this place is listed and showing. I’ll try to maintain an air of objectivity but the reality is, we bought this house completely blind and found 1) a really cool community of people here; and 2) a school system that might be the best-kept secret in southern Maine.

So, only in the last 15-20 years has New Gloucester embraced its standing as a rural/RESIDENTIAL suburb of Portland. When we moved here in ’98, that’s already what it was, but the ethos and the town government were still run by a bunch of old families and farmers who didn’t want to become North Yarmouth. That has changed. The Park and Rec scene is a good example: For years there was nothing but Little League. But the town has since realized it needs this sort of infrastructure to attract and keep families. So they upgraded the baseball/softball fields. They redeveloped the NG Fairgrounds to host youth football, soccer and lacrosse programs. The library program is superb, a community fair launched in 2006, and the trail system here is really quite amazing — something we all rediscovered during the pandemic. A big driver of all this was the development of the Pineland complex at the south end of town: There’s a YMCA there, all sorts of childcare, a farm market that sells the universe of Pineland produce and products, world-class X-country ski trails, disc golf, doctors and dentists offices. Quite a resource, all backed by the Libra Foundation, and a pretty lucrative tax base NG never enjoyed before.

New Gloucester will never be Gray. And that’s a good thing. Nothing wrong with commercial; it’s where Hannaford built a market 15 years ago. But NG’s aversion to that model (and the example of what Gray has become) is unlikely to change. There’s a plan to redevelop NG’s Upper Village, just north of intersection of 231 and Route 100. But that’s going to be a walking “downtown”, if it ever gets done at all. Most people are happy to have a couple pizza joints/convenience stores, Thompson Orchard, and the rightly famous Hodgman’s Frozen Custard. The only commercial in the Lower Village, the NG Village Store, is a good metaphor for the town. Go check that place out next time you’re here. It’s a quite fancy provisioner with fresh bread, brick-oven pizza, local produce, fancy beer and wine, killer sandwiches, and gourmet items galore. When it opened, we were impressed but figured it would never flourish — it was better suited to, and required a clientele from, a place like Yarmouth. Or so we thought. Well, they can’t keep stuff on the shelves. Been open 11 years and they keep doing more, because the ever more bourgeois population of NG cannot get enough. [Note: The guy who founded it used to get stoned in my house and jump off the roof into our pool… And sadly, the Village Store has recently curbed services in light of staff shortages.]

However, the biggest hidden selling point of New Gloucester is the Gray-New Gloucester school system, MSAD 15. When we moved here, it was a bit of a shambles frankly. Well, the high school was. The two towns had failed to pass a couple school budgets in the mid-1990s, after which all hell broke loose. Teachers fled, the high school reputation suffered, and lots of better students were shuttled off to Hebron, Cheverus and Waynflete. There are still NG residents who pay to send their kids to Yarmouth and Cumberland schools, but thoe may be the most misguided, wasteful spends of their lives.

The grammar schools in both towns, Gray and NG, have always been very good and so they remain. Lots of local teachers really looking after local kids — as if those boys and girls are their kids. That’s the vibe. In 2004, the town passed a $10 million school refurbishment bond that really set a new tone. NG had never done anything like that before. Soon thereafter, a charter school was formed in Gray, Fiddlehead Center for the Arts & Science, for those who want to college-track their kids from Day 1 (!). We never availed ourselves of that enterprise and still don’t see the need. But it’s just more evidence of the changing nature of the populations in both towns, but esp. NG.

However, the high school is where the big change has occurred. The evolution of the town has naturally attracted more folks whose kids are college-bound, and that’s made a big difference on its own. But implementation of the International Baccalaureate program starting in 2012 has brought enormous change to GNGHS. You can read all about that program here.  Basically, it takes two years just to ramp up (and train-up teachers) so as to apply to be an IB high school. Just three high schools in Maine have been accepted: GNG, Greely, Kennebunk. Once certified, that high school must offer a 2-year diploma program for juniors and seniors. Or kids can take IB level courses a la carte, like they do AP classes. At GNG, IB exists beside the AP program. GNG had never offered this breadth of choice to kids who gave a shit about school. In terms of sheer rigor, what IB offers at GNG today puts Waynflete and Hebron and NYA and Cheverus to shame frankly. We know because 1) we looked seriously at all of them; and 2) I pointedly interrogated college admission folk on the matter, when both my kids went through that meat grinder. IB is the gold standard, and we know many NG families who sent their kids elsewhere and quietly rue that decision today.

The IB curriculum was developed by a consortium of international schools, the private schools around the world that cater to and educate the sons and daughters of diplomats and expat business folks who move around a lot and wanted a secondary program 1) that could be interrupted, then picked up at the new posting without missing a beat; and 2) that would get their kids accepted to the best colleges in the U.S. and U.K. So the program’s outlook is very internationalist, integrated between subject matter, and tough. It really puts kids to the test. When it comes to diploma candidates, however, all the grading is done off-site at IB Headquarters in MD. So, GNG kids are getting the same education, curriculum and credential as kids at Phillips Andover or the British School of Berlin, etc. For a tiny, rural place like NG, that’s a pretty massive thing. Defections to private schools have slowed to a trickle. If I sound like I drank the Kool-Aid, here’s why: I’ve seen the way it has changed GNGHS, where Sharon and I were very involved. The kids pushed each other and it became sorta cool to get onto the IB train. The IB teaching credential is hugely sought after: Teachers are coming to GNG now, just in order to secure it and boost their own resumes. GNG never sent kids to Ivies and NESCAC schools. Now it’s commonplace.

New Gloucester is no paradise. It was always too Republican for my taste, a feeling that has perhaps moved past mere distaste to genuine worry, as the country preps for a headlong collision with fascism. But that’s not an NG problem. It’s a countrywide problem… Like many small New England towns, certain NG families also feel an outsized sense of ownership over the municipal apparatus — and New Gloucester is surely an example of that dynamic. But the trains run on time here (to reprise the fascist theme), taxes are low and the town remains very well administered.

As folks do, Sharon and I met dozens and dozens of families through the public school experience here. We met dozens more in completely ad hoc fashion. It has always amazed us just how many super interesting, cool, talented people live here. I play in two NG-based bands for example. There are at least a half dozen additional bands that operate from this tiny town of just 5,800 souls. Maybe all the small towns in Maine can boast of such things or some equivalent? I don’t know. But New Gloucester always impressed us in this regard, and we’ll miss it. Though it was no accident that we moved only 10 miles north, to Auburn. The NG will always remain at the heart of our community. Best… Hal

Dress Code Switch: Golf’s Unlikely Embrace of the Hoodie

Nearly two months post Ryder Cup, I’m still waiting on broad public acknowledgement of the striking sea change we witnessed at Whistling Straits. No, not the fourth U.S. victory since 1993. I’m talking about the addition of hoodies to the official American team kit.

The advent of this landmark bit or golf couture was in fact noted on both sides of the pond, but mainly as a means of telling readers where they might order their own commemorative hoodies. This, too, is a pretty telling development: The idea that golf’s famously staid, hidebound fan base might consider wearing something so fashion forward flies in the face of history, short and long term.

Could it be that golf is actually changing with the times?

Let’s review: What golfers tend to wear has been the butt of jokes and snide commentary for more than a century. The game’s inherent conservatism was initially the source of such derision. How else to explain the extraordinary staying power of kilties? Cultural pushback focused not merely on the tweed, the coats and ties in clubhouses, but the perceived exclusivity that spawned these fashion dictates.

More recently, the game was taken to task for a slew of obvious fashion don’ts: white belts, for example — something that emerged during the 1970s, when the spirit of Greg Brady was loose in the land. Sadly, this fad has made a comeback of late. Traditionally, golf cannot help itself in this regard. Despite its “best efforts”, it seemed golf would never shake its reputation an activity for old white guys in bad pants.

I’ve been in the golf business since 1992, and one of the first things I noticed was the game’s preoccupation with dispelling not just adverse couture tropes, but others: Golf’s inability to effectively welcome new players, for example. This was code for the game’s inability to attract female and minority players — a problem for a sport that wanted to grow, and yet another vestige of golf’s conservative and exclusive history.

The problem was, most of the new player development programs — and there have been dozens trotted out over the last 30 years — proved hard-blown exercises in lip service. Golf wanted to sound progressive and inclusive. But when push came to shove, the establishment was happy to welcome women, minorities and juniors into the game so long as they wore collared shirts and no one was obliged to play behind them.

Enter COVID-19, which has scrambled the assumptions of institutions far bigger and more ensconced than golf. As it happened, the pandemic resulted in a wholly unexpected boom in golf participation. Just one problem: A lot of these new players, attracted by the outdoor exercise, didn’t know how to play the game exactly. They certainly didn’t know what to wear. Or rather, they didn’t care so much what they wore. These new converts showed up in sneakers, gym shorts and hoodies — and pearls were clutched across golfdom at the mere thought of such a transgression.

Twenty-twenty proved a watershed moment for golf apparel. A pretty quiet watershed, it must be said. When a hoodie-clad Tyrell Hatton won the European Tour’s flagship BMW Championship that fall, folks took some notice. The powers that be at Wearside GC in Sunderland, UK tweeted: In light of Tyrell Hatton’s recent success and fashion statement and following discussions on this, can I draw your attention to the Clubs [sic] dress code and re emphasise that “hoodies” are not acceptable golf attire for Wearside Golf Club, no more so in fact than designer ripped jeans… Orthodox till they die up there in Northumberland, apparently.

Since that moment, however, the tide has turned. U.S. PGA Tour player Kevin Kisner was spotted wearing a hoodie in June 2021. Then the Ryder Cup was conducted, a year late, on the shores of Lake Michigan: If pervasive silence is any indication, this particular fashion statement has been completely normalized.

White America’s ability to absorb and appropriate formerly transgressive bits of culture knows no bounds apparently. As recently as 2013, the hoodie worn by young Trayvon Martin pegged him as a thug and resulted in his shooting death. Now Justin Thomas is wearing one, as part of official Ryder Cup team attire, and no one bats an eye!

One wonders whether such precipitous change would have been possible without COVID-19, the broader effects of which continue to show themselves inside and outside of golf. Were you aware Seattle-based rapper Benjamin Hammond Haggerty, known by his stage name Macklemore, has launched his own golf apparel line? He also fell in love with golf during COVID, apparently, and claims an 11 handicap. His new venture, Bogey Boys, does not appear to include any hoodies, just a bunch of bowling shirts and retro designs that seem ironically garish. Nevertheless, it would appear the pandemic didn’t just reinvigorate golfer participation in the U.S. It had rendered the game a notch or two more cool.

In researching a story for Golf Course Management magazine this past summer, I chatted with an Oklahoma public course operator who saw this change happening first hand, in real time. He noted that hoodies had been THE lightening-rod issue stemming from the COVID-occasioned participation bump. 

“All these things we used to take as religious convictions are now being questioned,” Jeff Wagner told me. “Like music on the golf course and the appearance of all these hoodies. Now that has ruffled some feathers. That’s new, but the sentiment isn’t. I saw a guy cry once because he was so offended that someone wore jeans in his clubhouse.

“I really hope that, post COVID, we acknowledge that adhering to snobby traditionalism comes with a cost, especially in public golf. I’m 40 years old, a tail-end Millennial, and I think these points of concern transcend the caliber of your club. On the spectrum of industries that stand to benefit from the redefining of things, golf is top of the list. If we really want to grow the game, this sort of adaptation is part of it.”

I don’t own a proper hoodie, but I have been known to keep a red, hooded, rain-proof pullover in my golf bag. A stiff wind, I’ve found, frankly wreaks havoc with any sort of hooded golf attire. It’s a pain in the ass standing over putts with that thing flapping around back there. I had assumed this was the price I paid to keep dry. Now I realize that, all along, I’d been answering the musical question, “What price fashion?”

Macklemore models a few selections from his now golf apparel line.

Things He Carried: The Peculiar Consumerism of a Mid-Century Man

I try to write about my father, the original Hal Phillips, each August. It was late in that month, back in 2011, that he shuffled off this mortal coil, all too soon. Because this particular August marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, it’s appropriate to tackle a weighty subject: toe and finger nail clippers. 

My dad was never ever without clippers on his person — really good ones, the kind that unfold from a sleek and compact “resting” position in some clever way, because they were engineered in places that value elegant design and function for their own sake. Like Scandinavia. Or Switzerland. What’s more, when I think hard about the various clippers he bought and deployed through the years, I realize my dad had a somewhat strange but highly developed idea of what practical consumer items he was determined never to do without. Or that’s how it seemed to me, at the time, as an 8-year-old rummaging through the various belongings he kept atop and inside the highest drawers of his notably high dresser. 

My dad never did without a leather change purse, either. Not those cheap plastic ones but a lovely little valise-like item the size of a pack of baseball cards. Mind you, I reckon that for 65 of his 74 years on this Earth, spare change had meaning: at tollbooths, during retail transactions, or to mollify his children should they have pined for some worthless doo-dad. In all of those cases, he produced said coinage from this leather, button-clasped casing, wherein he would also keep his clippers, a new iteration of which he would acquire every 3-4 years. 

Let me emphasize again that these were top-of-the-line personal grooming devices, the likes of which one might find in a Brookstone catalog, though I don’t honestly know where he or anyone procures such things, now or then. I have a nail clipper, too, of course. I keep it in my dopp kit. I don’t know where it came from. Despite my father’s example, it has never once occurred to me to carry it around on my person. Just as it has never occurred to me that I might store my loose change in fashionable leather pouch — and I hate loose change in my pockets! 

My dad was an industrial engineer by training, so he frankly got off a little bit on the sophisticated representation of most things: a succession of mechanical pencils, for example, which complemented the 4-color pen he always kept in the breast pocket of his shirt. Like most mid-20th Century men, he wore a watch and never took it off. Ever. He was partial to somewhat bulky Seikos where the stainless steel bands folded over themselves in order to clasp.

He was a cigar smoker for many years, so he always had on his person a cool straight-cutter, which he also kept in the change purse. This indulgence obliged him to have fashion- and otherwise tech-forward lighters: I remember one that operated like a small blow torch. There was another, quite old-fashioned model — partly sheathed in a cool leather casing — that I periodically encountered while poking around in his collection of keepsakes. Today I keep it among the memorabilia and bric-a-brac atop my own dresser. 

This serial geekdom when it came to consumer electronics I also trace back to his professional background. Because he was a serious student of classical music, for example, we would always have the finest stereo — and speakers. Massive ones, from that period during the 1970s when fine speakers had to be outsized. I remember my father making a big fuss over our very first color TV, a Sony that we purchased in time to watch the 1972 Summer Olympics from Munich. He honestly never struck me as the sort of super consumer who had to run out and buy the latest of this or that. Not at all. Nineteen seventy-two seems to me pretty late to the color-TV party. What’s more, I believe we owned that Sony Trinitron for a decade, until I left for college. Thereafter, however, it seemed as though every 4-5 years, he’d eagerly invest in the next level of TV technology. Each of these upgrades was met, by him, with a sort of childlike wonder: “Look at that picture!” he’d say, over and over again, to anyone there to listen. 

I want to be clear: This was not an extravagant man. In fact, he had some real hang-ups about spending money generally. Perhaps that’s why these flights of consumer fancy stood out to me then, and stand out to me still today. My dad was an ardent golfer but played a set of MacGregor MTs from the late 1950s, until such time that I grew into them. Only then did he hand them down to me and go buy a new set for himself. When my dad was first out in the working world, during his mid-20s, he apparently bought for himself a pretty snazzy Triumph TR3, in British racing green. He quickly sold this traditional roadster, however, to help pay for business school. He met my mom during those two years in Cambridge. He had sold the TR3 as an example of “putting away childish things,” or so my mother has told me. What followed was a sober succession of middle-class VWs, Volvos and Honda Accords. I think he felt obliged to balance his naked desire for “stuff” with this more serious, understated image of stolid American masculinity. 

My father was a pretty mediocre photographer but always had a kick-ass camera. There was an Instamatic phase. My mother still has at least one carousel full of those tiny slides to prove it. Thence followed a fancier phase, starting with his Canon AE1, which became available to American consumers in 1976. One time, while rooting about in some closet, I found two of his Polaroid cameras — the early ones, from the 1950s apparently, that expanded in accordion-like fashion from thick-but-streamlined, notebook-sized shells. 

Only as I write this do I recall the mildly awkward moments when I would come to him with a find like this, to ask what it was and how it worked. First he would smile at the sight of this consumer item he’d once enthusiastically acquired but, until that moment, hadn’t seen in years. Then a different sort of emotion would register in his face: “Geez, would you stop rummaging through my stuff?” Invariably, that silent rebuke quickly gave way to his original reaction, followed by some intergenerational Show & Tell.

The Big Chill, Classic Rock and the Boomerfication of America

By the time I headed off to college in August 1982 — which is to say, by the time the lead-edge of Generation X (those born between 1962 and 1980) had finished high school and headed off to college — the classic rock radio format had already begun to dominate the FM dial.

We children of the Seventies, who’d grown up in the Baby Boomer’s undertow, did not recognize in this musical phenomenon any overt Boomer-centrism. Not at first. It took another pop cultural marker to crystalize the audio-generational connection: The Big Chill. This film, released in 1983, had plucked a dozen “classic” Sixties tunes for its destined-for-platinum soundtrack, and an intersectional light flipped on in my head: This is Boomer music! In their plenitude, they have now claimed it as their own. That’s why radio programmers have deployed it as a staple of classic rock formats.

You may have noticed I spend a lot of time working to distinguish my fellow GenXers from our next elders in the culture. This matters, to me, because I’m often mistaken for a Baby Boomer (born between 1943-1961), and I don’t want to be associated with this cohort that has so dominated and distorted the culture, the economy, the political landscape.

Accordingly, I’m extra inclined to notice all the different cultural markers that serve to set us part. “Sesame Street” is one such indicator: Gen X was not insignificantly shaped by this show, while Boomers were too old to partake of this PBS standard when it debuted in 1969. The Big Chill and its soundtrack represent another prominent bellwether. Indeed, Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-winner (Best Picture, 1984) did more than cement a burgeoning radio format: It reinforced ideas Americans already held about ‘60s-era culture and student activism, while cannily updating us on what had happened to all these Boomers since.

This wasn’t the first bit of cinema to attempt this specific retrospection: John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven arguably did it first (1979), and more artfully. But The Big Chill did introduce to a far broader swath of U.S. culture the intense nostalgia Boomers still held for the 1960s — the idealism, the style of communitarianism, the capacities to make change, stop wars and pioneer a youth culture.

More pointedly, the film also posited that adult Boomers were, by the early 1980s, beginning to actively sell out and abandon those ideals, economically and politically.

Having first witnessed this massive generation of Americans transition from activist-idealists to Seventies-era truth-seeking hedonists, I already associated my next elders with self-indulgence — never with any great degree of false virtue, however. Nonetheless, as The Big Chill makes evident, Boomers already recognized this burgeoning hypocrisy in themselves. Eighties America and Reaganism were about making money. Grown-up Boomers wrestled with this market/capitalist ethos for a time: Remember the blowback Kevin Kline’s character gets for owning a business, making friends with cops and selling out to some multi-national? Lovable, non-threatening Kevin Kline!

Eventually, however, Boomers bought into naked capitalism and the politics of self-interest. Big time.

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Chinese Central Gov’t Moves to Enforce 2004 Golf Course Ban, Retroactively

[Ed. This story below ran in the March 2015 edition of GCM China, a quarterly magazine published by the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America from 2012-2016, in Chinese, for golf industry professionals working in the PRC. The New York Times weighed in this matter in April 2015.]

By Hal Phillips
The overriding mood of the Chinese golf industry in 2015 is one of uncertainty. While the central government has not altered its official stance toward golf since 2004 (when course development was specifically banned), close to 500 new golf course projects have opened or been formally undertaken during this 10-year period. Clearly, there is uncertainty within the central government as to how, when and where to enforce the ban — and how to deal with courses built in spite odf the ban.

There is, in turn, uncertainty on the part of course developers, who have witnessed the successful development of so many projects, since 2004, and have, at the same time, witnessed many projects suspended by the same government since summer 2014, when the 10-year-old ban was enforced anew — with increasing but selective frequency.

There is uncertainty on the part of Chinese golf industry observers — international vendors, native course personnel and golfers themselves — who possess a range of opinions re. where things are headed but dare not speak publicly, for fear of endangering their business interests, employment and club membership values. ]

GCM China spoke to a dozen different sources for this story, in an attempt to shed light on the situation. None wished to be identified. We chose to quote them here anonymously, because the subject matter is so important to our readers across the Chinese golf industry. Their opinions, taken together, reflect widest, most fulsome perspective on where exactly the golf industry stands today, and where it is headed.

There was broad agreement among those interviewed that the change in government policy took hold in late 2013, early 2014.

“We began to see and hear of more and more reports on policy enforcement and the tearing up of courses across the country,” said one golf course architect with design experience in China stretching back prior to 2004. “This began largely with the halting of new construction but soon began to migrate into the shutting down and tearing up of existing courses, even those with active memberships. This crackdown, I believe, was tied largely to the 2012 change of the Politburo and the very public crackdown on government corruption. Government officials across the country, upwards of some 20,000 in 2014, were arrested and jailed, some quite prominent.”

It’s important to distinguish here between local and central governments in China, something GCM readers understand better than anyone. When the golf course ban was instituted in 2004, that was a central government directive. However, in spite of the ban, local governments at the provincial and city levels, viewed golf development as a way to build local economies and employ local citizens. These local governments were the entities that “approved” golf projects. There is today no protocol for central government consideration of golf projects.

As a result, hundreds of golf development projects essentially flew, in various degrees of disguise, under the central government radar thanks to implicit local government cooperation — and a desire on the part of developers not to flout the central government’s official anti-golf stance. In order to avoid central government detection, many projects were classified by local government documentation not as golf courses or country clubs but sports facilities, parks and forested landscapes.

In June 2014, the central government created four classifications for all existing golf courses: those slated for shutdown, those slated for major renovation, those slated for more minor “rectification”, and those simply under “review”, which is seen as the safest of the four groupings.

There was broad agreement among sources that, since the beginning of 2014, the central government has been busy visiting and assessing all the golf facilities in the country — those in operation, in addition to those still in development. It is assumed that all courses will eventually receive one of the four designations, though subsequent actions, according to this classification, have not been made clear.

The situation is that much more murky because some courses have indeed been shut down summarily. Others have been informed that portions of the landscape must be modified, moved away from water resources, or returned to agrarian use; still more have been informed that some unspecified rectification will be required.

But the majority of courses have not been notified of anything. Not yet.

The first courses to be affected by the government crackdown were, not surprisingly, those closest to Beijing, the seat of central government power in China. Initially, there were rumors of pending taxation on water use on those golf courses — a legitimately pressing issue due to longstanding drought conditions in the north. But this was simply a preliminary indication of serious government intervention in all things golf. According to a golf journalist based in Beijing, golf course water usage and other environmental factors were and continue to be a mere pretext for singling out golf developments that flouted the 2004 ban — meaning the vast majority of golf courses in China today.

“I have heard that some courses are being proactive and looking into recycled-water alternatives — and the so-called new government water-use fees seem to be very sporadic in their implementation and how much the local government will charge,” said one Beijing-based course superintendent.  “I’ve also heard there could be new land-use fines. I don’t know how clubs can be viable if they have to keep paying the government money — but still don’t receive official papers or permits for the club [in return]. More clubs just shut down over the last month, so the industry is just crawling along.”

Another superintendent explained why his club was shutdown, before it even opened for play. “The main reason why my course was suspended is the protection of a nearby water source — because the media and public and government misunderstand the pollution caused by golf courses. So in recent times, courses close to water resources, such as lakes, rivers, streams and natural parks, were all inspected and forced to reevaluate the environmental effects. Other courses that are taking over farmland, or once took over farmland, are definitely not permitted right now. Existing courses are all being evaluated by the government now.”

Some Chinese golf courses that have not been the subject of review have been busy filling in bunkers and planting trees — on greens — in an effort to avoid detection, as a “golf course”, by roving government inspectors.

According to the golf journalist, “Some courses had already planned to use recycled water, but it’s just planned. After all, there is still no a clear law about hiking the water tax on the golf industry. But ‘no clear law’ always means a bigger problem. In China, nowadays, the most severe crisis in golf is the ‘Cleaning Up’ movement, not the water matters. Since chairman Xi Jinping took office, the government has tried to clean up the sport of golf. During last six months, they have already removed several courses (even when they are about to open!) in Beijing, then Shanghai, and now Guangdong.

“It is no exaggeration to say, the golf course industry is in one of the most severe recessions in 30 years of Chinese golf history.”

Most observers agree that the central government’s new interest in golf’s environmental impact is simply an excuse to make a larger, political point — namely, that too many golf courses were built illegally following the 2004 ban.

One business development executive for a course design firm fleshed out this perspective — and reinforced that a golf crackdown was related to a broader government-corruption crackdown — by detailing golf-related restrictions placed upon current government employees.

“Here is the latest official red tape from the Guangdong provincial government,” he said. “No government staff shall own or acquire golf membership certificates of any kind. No government staff shall take any positions in golf clubs or golf organizations including honorary positions. No government staff shall use public funds on golf membership cards, VIP cards, other cards with favorable terms, or golf equipment — no government staff shall take any of these above mentioned items from enterprises or individuals. No government officials shall play golf during business hours or play golf with public funds. No government officials shall play golf with those who are within their service objective or those who are under their management. No one shall pay for the expenses of golf for any government staff or his relatives. No government staff shall attend any golf activities or tournaments organized by private enterprise. No government staff shall be involved in any form of golf gambling.”

The larger point here is well taken: Placing these hardline restrictions on government staff is a likely prelude to penalizing courses built during the ban.

“With regard to golf course closure I have heard two rumors,” the business development executive said, echoing sentiments related by others interviewed for this story. “One is, 80 courses all over China will be shut down eventually, before the 30 June 2015 deadline. The other is, Guangdong province alone will have to close down 100 courses (including 15 in Shenzhen). Shanghai will close down 27, and Hubei province 14.”

These official anti-golf stances (which remain mere rumors) are highly ironic — creating further uncertainty within the industry — because, in other demonstrable ways, golf is a growing sport that Chinese clearly enjoy playing, as individuals but also as part of teams officially representing China.

“The Olympics will be a big push,” said one course architect, noting that China has a national golf team that will certainly compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Most Olympic-designated sports receive de facto support from the central government. “More and more Chinese are traveling outside of China to play golf. The Presidents Cup in Korea [8-11 October 2015] is something else that will bring huge awareness to the sport in China. The Chinese have always been very supportive of national sport and culture. In the future, I see changes. Maybe some of these bodies will come out with a mandate that says, if you do develop golf, here are the standards. But right now, development standards are seen as too much of an endorsement. “

Another architect was less positive when it comes to the fate of future development: “The central government is in the process of documenting all the courses in the country. Following this documentation, a report will be distributed. I believe this report will surface sometime in 2015, but most likely not until the summer, maybe even later. Many people believe this report will establish a policy to deal with existing and new course development with strict guidelines. I do not agree. I believe it will deal largely with the elephant in the room: all the existing illegal courses. I do not believe new construction will be dealt with at this time.

“This report (possibly a policy) will name courses to de demolished, courses that can stay, and courses that will need remedial work to be done over a 1-year period — to become compliant with the standards necessary to remain. These issues will include the avoidance of certified farmland, villager relocation and compensation, avoidance of forest preserve, water supply, and water runoff.”

One veteran of the China golf industry, whose firm supplies golf courses with various course-related supplies, said the central government is not necessarily equipped to assess the environmental aspects of course development. This will clearly affect its ability to assess golf courses as part of this report, and to monitor their environmental impact going forward.

“The real interesting cases will be courses that have permits and are least nominally legal, in the manner they were developed, but sit on or near drinking-water reservoirs,” this vendor said, noting that permits in these cases were issued by local, provincial governments, not the central government. “They are just cloaking this crackdown in environmental terms. The question will be, how do they do the monitoring? We’ve worked with their official labs. They are not up to the task.”

The business development source was more optimistic: “I personally think it is good for the industry in the long run. I am hoping the central government will issue the official regulations for getting permits and constructions of new golf courses early in 2015, before the Beijing Golf Show [scheduled for 13-15 March 2015]… My general feeling is that the tension on golf is going to loosen up toward the second half of the year, 2015, and the regulations will be released very quickly in the near future.”

A course construction professional is less convinced. He may have put it best (meaning, with the appropriate tone of uncertainty), when he said, “The Chinese government has always been difficult to predict, no matter what the case, and the same goes with the current state of the China golf industry. We’ve all heard the same rumors for months now, but to be honest, nobody knows! It’s all guesswork at this stage and anyone who tells you different is just relaying another rumor.”