HAINAN (China) A game similar to golf was played in China more than 500 years before the sport in its modern form was started in Scotland, although some historians argue the Romans invented it. Jade and gold clubs were used in “chuwan”, according to sketches and writings dating back to the Tang dynasty (AD960-1279). This game is thought to have been introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages.

The first recorded golf club on the Chinese mainland was established in Shanghai by British expatriates in 1896. The nine-hole course sat on what is now People's Square. Shanghai players competed against rivals from Hong Kong.

After the Communists came to power in 1949, the game was condemned as a bourgeois imperialist sport and the few courses closed.

In the modern era, the first course was built in 1984. This was followed by such a rash of golf development that the government, concerned about the loss of arable land, tried to impose restrictions. Today, there are an estimated 600 courses, many of which dodge the regulations by claiming to be landscaping projects or vaguely defined property developments.

With golf due to become an Olympic sport by 2016, its popularity is expected to grow. Last year, Jack Nicklaus reportedly said China was planning to build 1,400 public courses over the next five years.—Dawn/The Guardian News Service