Venezuela: Teeing off on golf

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

CARACAS, VENEZUELA – Mark Twain described golf as “a good walk spoiled.” But for Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, the sport represents everything wrong with modern Venezuelan society. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he railed on television. “Thirty hectares just for playing golf!”

Golf arrived in Venezuela at about the same time as oil was first exploited here. Many of the first courses were established near the country’s key oil-producing regions. Up until 10 years ago, Venezuela had 30 courses, but seven have since been closed down – mostly those belonging to the national oil company, PDVSA. The government wants to close down two more.

In 2006, Juan Barreto, then mayor of Caracas and a Chavez ally, moved to shutter the Caracas Country Club, Venezuela’s oldest course, to build housing for the poor. But after infighting and a legal battle, he backed down.

Julio Torres, president of the Venezuelan Golf Federation, denied that golf is an elitist sport. “In all parts of the world it began as a sport of kings. Here about 10 years ago golf began to open up mainly in the oil fields. Those who worked there played golf – managers, supervisors, and workers.”

One protégé, Jhonattan Vegas, the son of an oil worker, is currently playing on the PGA Tour.

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