Jing Daily's Second-Tier Spotlight” series looks at some of the key trends shaping China’s provincial capitals, often referred to as the country’s “second-tier” cities. Previously in the series, we’ve highlighted Xi’an’s surprisingly young luxury consumers, a “Goldfinger”-worthy publicity stunt in Changsha, jade fever in Qingdao, Shenyang’s love for second-hand shops, and Kunming's quiet emergence as a luxury brand magnet. Today, we turn to Wuhan, capital of Hubei province and, with a population of over 9 million residents, the largest city in central China.
"China now just has two types of rich people: those who play golf and those who don't," one worker at Wuhan's Tianwaitian Golf Club recently told Xinhua. Increasingly, it appears that Wuhan, in central China's Hubei province, boasts an increasing proportion of the former over the latter. Wuhan's well-heeled are in the midst of golf fever, driven by a perception that golfing is the requisite hobby for the city's movers and shakers. Devoid of golf until 1992, when a small practice green appeared in the city's Liberation Park, Wuhan now boasts around 17 small golf courses and driving ranges, along with five full-size, 18-hole courses: Wuhan International Golf Club, Tianwaitian, Eastern, Red Lotus Lake and Liangzihu, the first of which, Jinyihu, opened as recently as the late 1990s.
The construction of new courses, like the adoption of the sport by the city's upwardly mobile class, has been furious. According to industry estimates, Wuhan only had about 500 regular golfers in 2002, but with over 5,000 members now distributed over Wuhan's five professional golf courses, the city's golf enthusiasts have increased 10-fold in less than a decade. However, according to Red Lotus Lake marketing manager Hai Shuangyan (海双艳), it's only been in the last couple of years that the sport has really taken off. "Golfing is actually kind of a luxury," Hai said. "Players all have a certain amount of spending power, but the sport's relatively affordable for those who just want to play around on the practice course."
The driving range at Red Lotus
Hai added that the number of Wuhan golfers has skyrocketed in recent years, saying, "Actually, most of these new golfers just want to do it for leisure. Mostly they've been older people with a decent amount of money, but nowadays we see people of all ages." Xinhua suggests that golf's growing popularity in Wuhan over the past two years has been helped by the fact that golf will again become an Olympic sport in 2016 and that the sport enjoys a higher profile in the Chinese media.
So if golf really is a "luxury" for Wuhan residents, how expensive is it? From Xinhua (translation by Jing Daily team):
Reporters found that a lifetime membership at Red Lotus Lake costs anywhere from 200,000-250,000 yuan (US$31,000-39,000), and that memberships can be transferred after three years. However, this membership doesn't include service charges, which run 200 yuan (US$31) per round. For a non-member, one round runs around 1,200 yuan (US$186).
Still, buying all of the equipment is most certainly a luxury purchase. A set of golf clubs can run anywhere from 3,000 yuan to tens of thousands of yuan.
Getting some face-time with an actual Wuhan golfer, Xinhua discovers an interesting new Chinese nickname for the sport:
Last weekend, at the Hidden Dragon Golf Club, we came across one golfer, Zhang Wei (pseudonym), sweating on the course. "Have you heard?" Zhang asked, "Golf has a special nickname in China -- 'green opium.' It can be really addictive." From Zhang's perspective, if you want to make friends or engage in good PR, it's not enough anymore to invite them to dinner. Now, Zhang thinks, "inviting someone to dinner isn't as good as inviting them out to sweat." If you have a meeting on the golf course rather than in a boardroom, Zhang said, the outcome will be better for everyone.
"After playing a four-hour round, we've pretty much talked over everything we needed to."
As Hai Shuangyan adds, those in the Wuhan golf industry don't see the sport's popularity dying down any time soon. Despite Beijing's golf course construction ban -- which the China Golf Association is currently fighting -- Hai expects 27- and 36-hole courses to appear in Wuhan "soon".