In the rough: China closes Wanda golf courses in chilly northeast

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China has ordered shut two high-end golf courses owned by Dalian Wanda Group, in a blow for the developer that has already come under scrutiny over high debt levels and has sold off a large part of its hotel and entertainment business this year.

Fusong county in China’s cold northeastern Jilin province shut the courses at Wanda’s Changbaishan International Resort, a statement on the local government’s website dated Oct. 13 shows.

China has been cracking down on golf in recent years, amid a sweeping anti-corruption drive under President Xi Jinping, as tales of officials’ high living, including extravagant banquets and expensive rounds on the golf course, stirred public anger.

The Fusong government said it had on Oct. 9 ordered the resort to cease operations at its golf courses. The resort has two courses: an 18-hole course designed by golf star Jack Nicklaus and a 36-hole golf course.

Dalian Wanda declined to comment.

The Changbaishan resort is a 23 billion yuan ($3.5 billion) development near the border of North Korea.

A worker at the resort, who asked not to be named as she was not permitted to speak to the media, said she was unaware of the closure order, but that the courses had closed anyway in October because of the start of the winter season.

In January, China’s state planner said it had ordered the closure of more than 100 golf courses in a multi-year campaign launched in 2011 to tackle illegal development in the sector.

Golf has also been added to a list of Communist Party disciplinary violations, and is often cited in cases of graft.

The Wanda closures come just ahead of a sensitive five-yearly Party Congress in Beijing that starts this week. Xi is looking to consolidate power and to reinforce Party principles within state-owned and private corporations before the meet.

This year, China has been urging local firms to be cautious about offshore deals. Beijing’s crackdown on showy overseas ventures and high-profile empire builders has drawn in several corporations such as Wanda, HNA Group, Anbang Insurance Group [ANBANG.UL]and Fosun International.

Wanda, headed by billionaire magnate Wang Jianlin, has been one of the country’s most prolific dealmakers, controlling or owning stakes in U.S. cinema chain AMC as well as high-flying Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid.

But it dialled back some of its ambitions earlier this year, announcing plans to sell most of its tourism projects and hotels in the country to Sunac China and Guangzhou R&F Properties for around $9 billion.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan, additional reporting by Matt Miller in BEIJING and SHANGHAI newsroom; Editing by Himani Sarkar