Golf still shoulders ambivalence toward all things bourgeois

Golf simply cannot shake its reputation as a sport for rich, white guys in bad pants, not even where the game has spread its seeds, i.e. halfway around the world from the preppy, bourgeois, American suburbs where those pants were worn and that reputation was formed.

In Vietnam, one government bigwig, citing the growing number of his minions who’ve taken up the game, has forbade all those in his ministry from taking part. According to the Saigon Times, “Minister of Transport Dinh La Thang has banned senior leaders, chairmen and directors of companies under his ministry from playing, organizing or attending any golf event… According to Minister Thang, some leaders working in organizations under his ministry were not focused on their work and duties which was affecting the progress of several projects. One of the reasons for this heedless neglect of their duties was that officials had adopted the time consuming sport of golf.”

Naturally this tidbit was lapped up by news outlets far and wide, once again proving golf to be a convenient whipping boy — for environmentalists, media, even one-time communists — mainly because its devotees are presumed to be plutocrats with nothing better to do. It’s always been an easy target. I’m surprised Augusta National has not yet been occupied.

The minister is correct that 18 holes can easily occupy 5 hours of your day, and zealots have been known to think of little else. But does anyone think SCUBA diving and skiing require any less money or time? I don’t see them being singled out in this way. Is it the fault of golfers that one cannot conduct business 15 meters below the ocean surface, or in the 10 minutes you might be sharing a chair lift?

The big difference between golf and other cost-exclusive, time-sucking recreational pursuits actually dovetails with a striking irony. Governments like those in China and Vietnam, which spent decades railing against the evils of bourgeois capitalism, still aren’t comfortable with golf and its trappings.  However, golf development is growing all across Asia, in China and Vietnam especially, and where courses are built, jobs and tourists and native golfers follow.

In China, there is an official moratorium on course development, though hundreds of courses continue to be built on the sly, with local government support (because local pols are the guys who provide developers the land, for a price).

Time Out magazine recently detailed the politics of golf development in Vietnam, quoting yours truly in the process. The government in Hanoi has never banned course development, but neither had it ever publicly backed it — not until 2010, when Decision 1946 issued guidelines on how and where all VN courses were to be built going forward. The Decision also capped at 89 the number of courses to be completed by 2020. The government has since increased that number.

But the VN government can and should do more — to promote Vietnam as the burgeoning golf destination it is. Golf attracts tourist revenue, and the Vietnamese clearly love the game, especially those in the Ministry of Transport. This show ban will surely be lifted or simply peter out. Thereafter, let’s keep it to the weekend hours, shall we boys? We don’t want to go spoiling it for everyone else.

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