Friday, September 29, 2006

Who needs golf?

It'd be fair to say that golf has never been a sport of the masses - big green fees and expensive equipment mean that in most parts of the world it is the preserve of wealthy elites, and in densely populated countries golf courses are often resented for the exorbitant amounts of land all those fairways and bunkers and greens take up. There's a scene in the 1992 flick Falling Down in which stressed-out ordinary bloke Michael Douglas loses the plot and shoots out the tyres of a golf buggy, giving its owner a heart attack. 'Now you'll have to die in those silly golfer's clothes', Douglas observes matter of factly, before turning and ambling away down the nearest fairway. Movie audiences in Bel Air and Surrey gasped in horror; in Jakarta and Manila they applauded wildly.

During the half-finished revolution that ousted Suharto in 1998, Indonesian peasants occupied a number of golf courses in densely populated parts of Java and Sumatra, ploughing up fairways and greens and planting them with rice and other crops. Now the people of the barrios of the Venezuelan capital Caracas have that city's golfers in their sights. A petition and protests have prompted the city's mayor to announce the seizure of three golf courses, including the Caracas Country Club, which was established in 1918 and is used by foreign diplomats and some of Venezuela's wealthiest citizens.

The precious land that has been the preserve of a handful of golfers will be used to build low-cost apartments for up to 70,000 people in an effort to deal with Caracas' severe housing shortage. Venezuela's elite has reacted with anger to the announcement, and their objections have been relayed by some of the more 'moderate' members of Hugo Chavez's government, including vice President and Communist Party leader Jose Vicente Rangel, who is worried about 'antagonising' Venezuela's capitalist elite. With Chavez out of the country when the expropriations were announced, Rangel made an effort to distance the central government from the decision, but central government has no legal power to reverse Mayor Juan Barreto's decision. Peter Larsen links the dispute between Rangel and Barreto to wider policy debates within the Bolivarian movement, and finds traces of these debates in Hugo Chavez's recent speech to the United Nations.

I have to own up to being an ex-golfer - I grew up in a rural area where the sport is quite popular and accessible, my Mum played (and still plays) at a fairly inexpensive and unpretentious club nestled between dairy farms near Pukekohe, and when I was twelve I enjoyed hunting for lost balls in the bush and scrub along the fringes of fairways. (Hey, I've always been easily amused, which probably explains this blog...) These days though I'm inclined to agree with Maurice Gee, who explained his decision to give up the game by reflecting that 'It's just not healthy devoting so much mental energy and physical effort to getting a small ball into a hole three hundred feet away'.

But even if I thought golf was the most thrilling pursuit in the world, and followed the exploits of Tiger Woods the same way I followed the exploits of Richard Hadlee in the '80s, I'd like to think I'd be able to appreciate the arguments Barretto and his supporters in the barrios of Caracas have made against the game. It is anti-social, to say the least, to make hundreds of acres of precious land in the middle of an atrociously crowded city the preserve of a tiny number of people. Auckland may not suffer from the same overcrowding as Caracas, but a strong argument could still be made for the expropriation of the numerous golf courses in this fair city. Take a look at a map of the place, and you'll see that at least a third of the 'green spaces' in the city are not parks or school playing fields, but golf courses. With their mature trees and open spaces, courses like the ones in Remuera, Mt Roskill and Devonport would make public parks to rival the Domain or Cornwall Park. Why should these spaces not be made available to the whole population? The erstwhile golfers would whinge and moan, but they could always develop a passion for frisbee or touch rugby. And there's even a precedent for the reclaiming of golf course land in New Zealand, in the form of the epic protests that eventually won the Raglan course back for Tainui Maori in the early '80s.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That picture looks remarkably like you Maps!

6:11 pm  
Blogger maps said...

It's actually Che Guevara teaching Castro how to play golf after taking Havana! I just took it down because it was so blurry - would have to be if you could confuse him with me! - but you can check it out here (scroll down):

6:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Che, You - same same (but different). Both commies eh?!

7:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my experience those who oppose golf and other forms of healthy outdoor exercise are mentally ill


10:53 am  
Blogger Skyler said...

Fortunately we do not have an overcrowding problem in Auckland or New Zealand (4 million people in a country the size of England who have 60 million). We also have plenty of parks and green trees in Auckland. Therefore, we don't need to get rid of the golf courses just yet. Of course, in a poverty stricken and overpopulated city like Caracas it is only right to get rid of the golf courses.
Golf is traditionally an elitist sport but you can't knock walking in a park for exercise and it's great for de-stressing. It also takes skill to get that 'small ball into a hole three hundred feet away' - golfers find that satisfying! Maybe we should try and get the fee to belong to a club down, rather than getting rid of the game altogether.

3:27 pm  
Blogger maps said...

'We also have plenty of parks and green trees in Auckland.'

Really? Where do you live? If the answer is a leafy upper/middle class suburb like Epsom or Mt Eden, then you're possibly making the mistake of generalising from an exception.

There are less salubrious parts of Auckland where green space is less common and sports clubs - I mean clubs representing real sports that anyone can afford to play like rugby and cricket and the like - have to compete for grounds.

In these areas golf courses are generally used by people who live outside the local community, and contribute nothing to it. A good example is the course in Otahuhu, which is about as typical of South Auckland as the nearby Kings College.

Why should Polynesian people in a poor suburb have to give up space for use by wealthy white folk who live on the other side of town? I'd rather it was used as parkland or as playing fields for sports clubs that are part of the local community.

Even in parts of Auckland that have an adequate amount of green space, I'd rather see golf courses used for some less anti-social purpose - low-income infill housing, for instance, that helped stop the city sprawling to the north and south.

Golfers should find a less anti-social sport.

3:37 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

According to Manukau City there are 'thousands of hectares of parks, all there for your enjoyment!'
'Manukau has over 800 areas of open space, including over 400 parks, 90 civic areas, and 150 kilometres of esplanade totalling more than 2500 hectares. In addition the street environment includes over 50,000 street trees.'

"Why should Polynesian people in a poor suburb have to give up space for use by wealthy white folk who live on the other side of town?" - The above comment is a bit condescending don't you think?

Auckland has a sprawl problem due to bad planning but should golfers suffer now for the council's lack of foresight?

3:55 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Why is it condescending to suggest that the people who live in a community, especially a poor community, should have first access to community resources like parkland, instead of seeing these resources taken by wealthy outsiders?

Golf courses like the ones in Otahuhu and Manurewa are effectively white, upper class enclaves in poor and heavily Polynesian communities.

You may consider yourself well-informed on this matter because you just visited the Manukau City website, but I lived in South Auckland for the first eighteen years of my life, and I can tell you that there are no parks there that compare with either the Otahuhu or Manurewa courses.

Apart from the Botanical Gardens in Manurewa Heights, which are used mainly by outsiders and not available for any sort of sport, there is no public parkland in South Auckland which can offer the mature trees and landscaped grounds that those who live in wealthy suburbs like Epsom or Parnell take for granted. Most parks in South Auckland are flat, bleak, windswept expanses that look one step away from being building sites. By contrast, the courses at Manurewa and Otahuhu rival the Domain and Cornwall Park for attractiveness.

It seems, though, that you're happy for the people of South Auckland to enjoy second-rate parks, as long as the sacred rights of the golfers of Whitford, Remuera and Epsom are preserved.

Or perhaps you consider that the fact that local Polynesians secure jobs caddying, cleaning out toilets, and searching for lost balls at courses like Manurewa means that they are not excluded from the splendid sport of golf, and have nothing to complain about?

4:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are all sad, sick losers.


4:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought golf was 'popular and accessible' where you grew up Maps? Now you say it's a form of apartheid. Make up your mind, old boy.


5:39 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

I just wrote an long reply and then lost it - very frustrating! Anyway, for a quick final reply, I think our views are actually not that far apart. I think you may have taken you argument a bit far and all I am saying is that Auckland has enough open space for us all - so that we don't need to get rid of the golf courses just yet. It may be correct that more money needs to be put into upgrading and planting the parks in south Auckland.

From the dreaded Manukau website see the park options already available:
Different types of parks in Manukau
'There are five different types of parks across Manukau, supporting a range of activities from sports to ecology and conservation.

You can enjoy:

14 premier parks such as Totara, Puhinui, Otuataua Stonefields and in the future Barry Curtis park in Flat Bush.
50 sports parks, such as Lloyd Elsmore and Mountfort providing playing fields courts and facilities for a number of sports including: cricket, soccer, rugby, league, netball, touch rugby and kilikiti.
350 neighbourhood parks.
Over 150 kilometres of esplanade reserve along the city's coastline and major streams. These allow access and conservation and help prevent erosion.
40 areas across our reserves are set aside for community purposes, land on which on which community organisations can develop buildings or facilities. There are over 75 activities established on these reserves, including youth organisations, pre-school facilities, marae, health centres, craft, art, and model clubs, senior citizen clubs, boating clubs and pony clubs.
Our sports parks are Manukau's active parks - those that make a major contribution to supporting health and wellbeing through participation in sport.

Our other parks are Manukau's passive parks, supporting recreation, ecology, landscape, heritage and community values.'

Here's a link to the ARC southern parks which include, Ambury, Awhitu, Duder, Hunua, Mutukaroa-Hamlins Hill, Omana, Tapapakanga, Waharau

5:39 pm  
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8:08 pm  

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