- The Washington Times - Friday, August 14, 2009


Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez has taken a swing at golf as the latest threat to revolutionary progress.

In a national television address two weeks ago, Mr. Chavez denounced golf as a “bourgeois sport” for lazy elitists. Now officials in Venezuela are moving to close two of the country’s best-known courses, in the cities of Maracay and Caraballeda, in order to make way for either public housing, parks or an extension campus of Bolivarian University. Mr. Chavez’s regime is closing an average of three golf courses per year, and there are only about 20 left in the country.

Leftists have long objected to golf as a sport of the well-to-do. It has been denounced as a bourgeois pastime in most communist states, along with such sports as boxing, skiing, tennis, baseball and horse racing. Mr. Chavez’s role model, former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, called golf a “game of the idle rich and exploiters of the people.” This was quite a politically charged statement during the golf-crazy Eisenhower era.

In March 1961, Mr. Castro played a round with former caddy Ernesto “Che” Guevara to mock the American preoccupation with the sport. “I could win over [President] Kennedy perfectly,” Mr. Castro bragged, while Che asserted that he could defeat the redoubtable Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in June was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The Associated Press later reported that Mr. Castro shot in the 150 range (more than double par), and caddies observed that his swing was like “a cane cutter wielding a machete.” In 1960, acting “in the name of the people,” Mr. Castro seized one of pre-revolutionary Cuba’s best courses, the Havana Biltmore, and — according to maps published on the “Llamado 32/Secretos de Cuba” blog site — Mr. Castro currently lives in a spacious house along the former 14th-hole fairway.

But times change. In 2007, Havana announced a crash program of golf-course construction with a view toward attracting tourists. Cuban officials no longer see golf as an impediment to the revolution but a source of hard currency.

Mr. Chavez could take a lesson from the socialist paradise of North Korea, where golf has become a symbol of the puissance of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. According to official accounts, during his first round on Pyongyang’s par-72 Taesong golf course, Mr. Kim shot 38 under par, including 11 holes in one. Mr. Kim regularly shoots in the low 50s and nets an average of four holes in one per round. And for the average ace-challenged golfer, the new Diamond Golf Club in the tourist region near Geumgang Mountain will feature a 169-yard par-3 hole with a concave green designed to guide any ball that lands on it into the cup.

The war on golf is another of Mr. Chavez’s brutish appeals to class envy. It further marks Venezuela’s retrogression into a cheerless mobocracy in which egalitarian slogans mask strict authoritarian rule. Certainly Venezuela faces more profound challenges than scapegoating golfers — such as the outright destruction of the free press and collectivization of the economy — but it is symbolic of the temper of the times.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie believed that golf was an “indispensable adjunct of high civilization.” The sport’s creeping demise in Venezuela is a road sign to the dark age that is settling with rough certainty on that benighted part of the world.

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