The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream by Dan Washburn - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Hole in Yuan

The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream


Oneworld 316pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

There are two books here. One is about the intricacies and arcana of golf – irons, niblicks, drivers, pars, cuts, and so on. If you are a golf maven, go for it. But the other book is on a wholly different matter: the details and extent of local and high-level Chinese corruption – ‘A China thing’, or ‘That’s China’, as one of Dan Washburn’s main subjects repeats, as if to excuse as well as explain. I know no narrative that surpasses The Forbidden Game in this regard.

Building golf courses has been illegal for many years in China, except for a very recent ruling that permits them on Hainan island alone. But hundreds have been built, saving the bacon of the world’s leading designers as the American market has collapsed. If there is a better example of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’, as these vast unmistakable tracts spread across the country, I haven’t noticed it. A course designer explained to Washburn that his client advised him to ignore the official ban on building golf courses:

My client was the central government … the course was part of a resort in southern China known to be a holiday retreat for government officials … I was working on a pet project of the central government, right while they were doing the moratorium … They were

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