Yet as Hong Kong feels increasingly divided between rich and poor, the debate surrounding the golf course speaks to more fundamental questions about the future of this city, and whether it will be affordable to all, or just a playground of the rich.
Some of the most vocal opponents of the course are young social activists who call land ownership the biggest dividing line between Hong Kong’s haves and have-nots.
Yam Chun, 24, a community organizer for the Concerning Grassroots’ Housing Rights Alliance, sees the golf course as the epitome of inequitable use of land.
Born to a working-class family, she said she grew up in cramped subdivided flats and old tenement buildings while her family sat on a long waiting list just to get into public housing.
“When my family and I were still waiting for public housing, I thought to myself, does Hong Kong really not have enough land?” she said. “Now that I’ve grown up, I realize that the real problem is the unfair distribution of land.”
Some experts say that while the dispute has exposed deeper anxieties caused by Hong Kong’s economic rise, the golf course is not big enough to solve the housing issue.
“The golf course problem is just pure political populism,” said Richard Wong, professor of economics at the University of Hong Kong. “The golf course is peripheral, completely peripheral, to the solution to this problem,” he added. “It’s symbolic.”
Still, symbols can be important, and some argue that getting rid of the golf course would hurt Hong Kong’s competitiveness.
“As an international financial city you do need to balance housing needs with sporting needs,” said Mr. Wong, the club captain. “You can’t have a walled city of just concrete, with no facilities, no attractions to other investors, foreigners, expats, people of different backgrounds.”