WSJ: Venezuela's Chávez Wants to Ban Golf and God

Some would object that it is sacrilegious to invoke golf sarcastically and mock its serene meditative inner bliss in the hope of making some cheap op-ed political points for the capitalists over and against the striving of the socialist leader Chávez of Venezuela.

But that is not the tack we take in replying to Daniel Friedman's WSJ essay, "Chávez Takes a Swing at Golf. A 'bourgeois' sport? Or a forced march spoiled?"

The tone of the WSJ opinion aside, Chávez surely makes a valid point about golf, both within his own classical socialist worldview and yes, even in the capitalist context of social constructions.

When we traveled to China and Japan in 1991, knowing that the actual opportunities to play golf would be chancy, we took with us an adjustable golf club - an iron that allowed us to tilt the clubface to the angle of a one iron through pitching wedge (pictured). We surprisingly located, and were able to play at, a nice executive course outside of Beijing. Our decadent capitalist round went rather well with that clever club. Bravo to capitalist ingenuity.

In the Keiretsu-ridden society of Japan, they laughed at us when we told them we wanted to play golf -- the next day! The competition for tee times is so intense there that without interlocking connections, a plain person needs at least 30 days notice to get a round on the board. So we ended up hitting a bucket of balls at the Kyoto driving range adjacent to our hotel. And in the spirit of capitalism, we sold the adjustable club to grateful Japanese golfer for more than we had paid for it in Edina Minnesota.

Really. Do we want to use his golf ban as an argument with which to club Chávez? He does have a valid point. Although golf is a real sport, the way it is allocated to the populace in America surely makes it a blatant divider of people along the lines of social classes.

For a stark instance, consider that the exclusive members-only capitalist Augusta National golf course still does not allow women, just recently opened to a black member and certainly is not known for welcoming Jews over its dark history. And if you are poor, you might aspire to be a caddy there.

Chávez does have a powerful justification for picking golf as a symbolic target in his war on capitalist decadence.

So our point is that it's not effective for the opinion writer in the WSJ to invoke the hackneyed and half-serious alleged divine and mystical characteristics of the game of golf in order to denigrate the fully-justified critique of an often oppressive streak in world culture.

In the context of his argument, here is part of what the writer says.
...Players surrounded by the natural beauty the Lord created are reminded of the limits of man's ability to conquer it. Consider the elusive hole-in-one, the wind that ruins the otherwise near-perfect swing and the bunkers that upset a quick recovery.

"The Calvinists' ideal testing ground" is how the late British-American journalist Alistair Cooke once described it. "The bunkers, the scrubby gorse, the heather and broom, the hillocks and innumerable undulations of the land itself, were all seen not as nuisances but as natural obstacles, as reminders to all original sinners that in competition with the Almighty, they surely would not overcome."

In that sense, golf threatens to undermine a dictator's personality cult by reminding people of the true ultimate power. That's not the kind of message el presidente would probably like Venezuelans to hear—even if he once described Jesus as the world's first socialist...more...

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