The number of golf courses in China has likely trebled to more than 500 since 2004 as the sport's popularity has surged, state media said Sunday, despite a ban on new construction to protect farmland.
A Xinhua news agency report quoted varying estimates that put the number of courses as high as nearly 600, with possibly more still uncounted, compared with just 170 in 2004.
Only 10 of them received proper approvals and business licences, after the Ministry of Land and Resources imposed a ban on new golf courses in 2004 to safeguard dwindling farmland and conserve water in the drought-prone country.
The report quoted real estate experts saying course developers frequently mask their projects by leaving the word "golf" out of their developments' names.
Local officials often turn a blind eye to the flouting of the rules, knowing that such projects will raise property prices. Land sales are a key source of government revenue in many areas.
Despite its failure so far to produce a top-class golfer, China has seen an explosion in the popularity of amateur golf since its first course was built in 1984.