Primary school makes golf compulsory

A Chinese primary school is making golf lessons compulsory in an effort to widen participation in a country where the sport has been been controversial for its links with wealthy elites.

Some 400 pupils at the publicly funded Experimental School of Foreign Languages in Shanghai are teeing off weekly, the state-run China Daily said Monday.

"Golf is not a high-class sport exclusive to the rich. It can be a popular game accessible to all," it cited school principal Xia Haiping as saying.

China's ruling Communist Party has an ambivalent relationship with golf. Local authorities have profited from selling land for courses, but they are seen as venues for shady dealmaking between elites and politicians.

The country boasts world-class fairways and an emerging crop of young players, but officials have shut dozens of courses down while the Communist party last year banned members from accepting free club memberships.

The Shanghai school made golf classes compulsory for seven- and eight-year-olds from last month, it says on its website.

The China Daily said it was the first public elementary school to make the game mandatory, although some private schools have already done so.

"The students now are all quite internationalised now. Just having the language skills is not enough... Golf is an important social skill for them to step towards international society," headmaster Xia told local media outlet The Paper.

Though a growing number of Chinese players are making a mark as professionals, expensive club memberships mean that only a tiny minority of Chinese have swung a golf club.

Sports management firm Forward Group estimated 390,000 people in China played golf eight times or more last year, down from 410,000 in 2014.

Central authorities ordered a nationwide freeze on new golf courses in 2004, but were largely ignored. China's ministry of sport said last year it would close 66 "illegal" venues.