There is a very good reason for this. Mr Xi, who also holds the title of general secretary of the Communist Party of China, has declared war on the ancient game and the authorities have begun shutting golf courses almost as quickly as the mouths of political dissenters.
Tiger Woods managed a top-20 finish at Augusta
The warning signs have been there for more than a decade. In 2004, the national government banned the building of new courses because of environmental concerns. It proved a bit like the High Court banning D H Lawrence. In the next 10 years, the number of courses grew from 200 to more than 600. The flouting was routine. Local governments allowed the developers to sculpt their 18-holers but, claims Dan Washburn, author of The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, instructed them to call the projects “ecological restoration”.
The European Tour staged more and more professional tournaments and is hosting the Volvo China Open at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club this week. Latterly the PGA Tour has moved in. And so Chinese pros have emerged. Last Sunday, the 19-year-old Hao Ting Lia was beaten in a play-off at the Shenzhen International; at the Masters last year 14-year-old Gianlang Tuan made the cut; in the female game, Shanshan Feng made the major breakthrough at the LPGA Championship in 2012.
Resorts such as Hainan Island opened, with 22 courses, and summed up the excess and supposed certain success. Indeed, for so long suspicious of this capitalist pursuit, suddenly golf and China seemed a match made in Hainan.
Until now. Mr Xi has taken out his switchblade – 66 “illegal’ courses have been closed and in his fight against corruption, golf is a rather obvious target. Membership fees can be up to £20,000 per annum and the average civil servant’s wage is £2,000. That adds up to free memberships for “helpful” officials.
Woods still looks far from his best
Mr Xi does not want government men betting on golf games, he does not want them doing on-course deals or taking golf “jollies”. In plain, he does not want them playing golf and being associated with the sport of Barack Obama, with the game that Chairman Mao dismissed as the “sport of millionaires”.
Golf is being bracketed with gambling, prostitution and drugs. This month, a state newspaper said: “Like fine liquor and tobacco, fancy cars and mansions, golf is a public-relations tool that businessmen use to hook officials.”
These suppressive tentacles know no bounds. There is a hotline for civilians to inform on civil servants who play or are even interested in golf. Arrests have been made, politicians have been jailed. The game has been driven underground and some are reportedly playing under assumed identities. Once there was McCarthyism in the US, there is now McIlroyism in China. It encapsulates the nation’s conflicting reality – extreme wealth and extreme state control.
The American could have a bizzare conflict on his hands
Of course, this is not only the problem for Woods or any Western investors, British included, who have poured money into the game and these supposed no-lose projects. China is obviously at the heart of golf’s grand Asian migration and for some reason, golf’s powers-that-be believe that expansion there is vital to the game’s future and that all this could be a very threat to survival.
Alas, for golf, it was ever thus. The earliest reference to the game was in Edinburgh in 1457 when King James II banned “ye golf” because he feared his subjects were neglecting archery practice. The monarch was seemingly oblivious to the fact that a drilled three-iron could be just as deadly as a bow.
For King James II read Mr Xi. Golf’s hope is that its reappearance at the Olympics next year will grab the attention of the state and persuade Mr Xi to invest rather than interfere.
Yet nobody can be sure. In Mr Xi’s mission to cleanse, everyone and everything is expendable, including golf and Woods. So good luck, Tiger, although do stay positive. After all, the red shirt might help.