Tournament will not disrupt housing plans for Hong Kong golf course: officials

City leader John Lee has announced major tournament in October, only one month after part of famous course is returned to government for redevelopment.

Hong Kong’s development authorities have insisted plans to build 12,000 public flats on a luxury golf course will go ahead despite an announcement by the chief executive during his Middle East trip that the Fanling site will host an international tournament in October.

The new Hong Kong tournament in the Aramco Team Series, which boasts a HK$40 million (US$5 million) global sponsorship, will see top golfers teeing off only a month after part of the city’s century-old course in Fanling is returned to the government for redevelopment, according to a timetable previously disclosed by the Development Bureau in September 2020.

The Development Bureau told the Post on Tuesday the government would take back the 32-hectare (79-acre) site that is part of the 172-hectare golf club this September as planned, and continue to pursue the public housing development on the golf course.

The proposed development would provide 12,000 public housing flats.

“In case the club requires any temporary additional land for operational purposes in organising major events in future, the relevant departments would be happy to provide assistance where possible,” the bureau’s spokeswoman said.

She added that the 12,000 flats to be built on the site were an important public housing supply in the decade.

Adding to two Asian tournaments set for March and April, as well as the Hong Kong Open in November, the Aramco Team Series – which is part of the Ladies European Tour – will be the fourth international event to be held at the course this year.

“The Aramco Team Series is the most visible expression of the growing relationship between Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia,” a source close to the event said. “There will be a lot of effort put into ensuring it takes place to a high standard.

“We haven’t spoken to the government about [the proposed public housing development] yet. At the moment we’re just focused on putting on the best tournament we can at the city’s iconic golf course.”

Hong Kong Golf Club is the only course in the city considered of high enough standard to host professional tournaments, and has been hosting the Open since its inception in 1959.

It will be the site of all three tournaments this year, starting with the World City Championship in March.

Sources said the Middle East oil giant Saudi Aramco had sponsored the series with HK$40 million. Its Hong Kong tournament was set to attract top international players as well as political and business heavyweights, they added.

“The event in Hong Kong will last for three days with a prize money of US$1 million, and the live broadcast is expected to attract more than 800 million households globally,” another source familiar with the situation said.

The announcement coincided with the administration’s recent launch of the “Hello Hong Kong” campaign, which aims to put the city back on the world map.

The 172-hectare golf course, however, will have a 32-hectare part of its grounds known as the Old Course, as well as its car park, returned to the government in September for redevelopment due to its lease and holdover arrangements ending.

The area to be taken back by the government is usually used for parking and storing equipment.

Located east of Fan Kam Road, the site has been pinpointed by the government for a plan to build 12,000 public rental and subsidised homes by 2029.

Eight hectares will be allocated to construction while the remaining 24 hectares will be used as nature conservation and public recreation given the location’s medium to high ecological value.

Despite returning the Old Course, the Hong Kong Golf Club still has about 140 hectares of land with two complete 18-hole courses plus 10 holes for a third course to the west of Fan Kam Road.

Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, chairman of the Legislative Council’s panel on home affairs, culture and sports, earlier on Tuesday said he welcomed hosting large-scale sports competitions in the city, but that the government should explain whether the lease for the land would be extended for the tournaments.

Hong Kong will welcome the Aramco Team Series, which is part of the Ladies European Tour.

Chan Kim-ching, founder of Liber Research Community, a local NGO focusing on land and development, expressed concerns that holding two tournaments after the government took back the Old Course could be a move to extend the site’s lease, or even to drop the redevelopment plan in the long run.

“It will definitely affect the government policy in tackling the city’s housing problem. The lease can only be extended at most for three months,” Chan said.

“The government cannot give up the redevelopment plan. There is no reason to extend the lease indefinitely as the government has promised to take the land back.”

The housing development’s environmental impact assessment report is now pending the approval of a panel of government advisers, who may reach a consensus as early as April.

Chan, however, said new members were appointed to the panel last month, which was now chaired by a businessman with fewer members supporting the housing development.

Anthony Chiu Kwok-wai, executive director of the Federation of Public Housing Estates, was not worried about the changes as the government had not showed signs of dropping the proposal.

In case the government held back the housing plan, Chiu said authorities had to provide a good explanation and a substitute site for building the 12,000 homes by 2029.

Hong Kong Golf Club is the only course in the city considered of high enough standard to host professional tournaments.

Surveyor Lau Chun-kong, who sat on a now-defunct land supply task force that recommended authorities take back the golf site in 2018, said it was too early to comment on whether the redevelopment plan was affected by the city’s tourism campaign.

“It is reasonable to hold international sports events to promote the city but it is too early to wipe out the development procedures as we need to consider the environmental impact assessment report, as well as other considerations from the government,” Lau said.

The Asian Tour and European Tour earlier wrote to officials saying the loss of the site would impact their decisions to return, saying the 2,000-space car park in particular an essential part of the site’s facilities.

The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau told the Post that it welcomed the hosting of more international sports events, adding that it trusted that the organiser of the Aramco Team Series would have taken into account various factors when making its hosting commitment.