Who needs golf?
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.