HONG KONG — The Hong Kong Golf Club is a 129-year-old enclave of privilege whose quiet fairways once catered to the city’s British colonial rulers, but whose parking lot is now filled with the Teslas and Porsches of its wealthy Chinese elite.
More recently, this sprawling golf club, with 54 holes, has become something else: the focal point of a raging, citywide debate about how to use Hong Kong’s scarcest and most valuable resource, land.
“Golf is a plaything of the Brits,” said Ng Cheuk-hang, 23, a spokesman for the Land Justice League, an activist group that wants the golf course redeveloped into low-rent public housing.
“It’s not a grass-roots sport,” he said. “It’s not a sport for the people, and it creates a lot of social injustices.”
Yoshihiro Nishi, 51, the president of the Hong Kong Golf Association, a group representing four private golf clubs in Hong Kong, thinks the activists are unnecessarily politicizing the issue.
“All the members of the Hong Kong Golf Club understand the housing needs in Hong Kong,” said Mr. Nishi, who works as a private banker by day. “We just want to make sure that we get to say what we want to say. Don’t turn it into a little bit of fight between the haves and don’t-haves.”
The problem is that property prices in Hong Kong have soared to the highest levels in the world; blue-collar and middle-class families are priced out of the market. And so the city is searching everywhere for places to build — the edges of public parks, a few remaining farms, land reclaimed from the sea and so-called brownfield sites, like former container yards.
It’s an affordable-housing crisis whose effects have rippled across the broader economy and inflamed political tensions in a society already divided over Beijing’s refusal to allow free elections.
Much of this mountainous, densely populated territory of more than seven million has already been filled with high-rises, shopping centers and concrete sprawl. Hong Kong’s golf courses and other private recreation clubs — long given special treatment as the city strove to be an attractive hub for global bankers and executives — are increasingly seen as one of the quickest solutions to the land shortage.
But as the golf courses and clubs face growing calls to be redeveloped into public housing, they also are facing angry protests linking the crisis over land use to the city’s broader problems of economic inequality and declining social mobility.