Saturday, April 28, 2012

worth reading The Killers Elite

Now that economic sanctions are being lifted, will Myanmar emerge as a hot spot for golf development?

Agence France-Presse is trying to make a case for golf’s future in the police state formerly known as Burma, contending that “an influx of investment” is on the horizon, part of which will be used to build “plush new golf resorts.”

Let me lay my cards on the table: I hope AFP is dead wrong on this prediction. If there’s one place on earth that doesn’t deserve to have a vibrant golf industry, it’s Myanmar.

Myanmar is one of the poorest, worst-educated, most insular nations on earth, thanks to decades’ worth of repression by a brutal military dictatorship. The nation features a continuing civil war, a deplorable health-care system, and political leaders as beloved as those in Syria. Before it starts to build “plush new golf resorts,” it ought to build some decent highways.

Top 100 Golf Courses of the World summed my feelings nicely: “Myanmar is one of the few countries in the world that any potential visitor should consider long and hard from an ethical perspective before deciding to visit.”

No doubt, though, Myanmar has a golf culture. Golf has been played in thenation since the 1880s – a contribution to “growing the game” by British rulers – and AFP says that roughly 80 courses are currently in operation.

If you believe you must play some of Myanmar’s historic courses, or if you’re thinking about getting involved in a development venture, I’d advise you to keep your nose clean while you’re in the country. Myanmar’s most powerful people have proved themselves to be among the planet’s most notorious human rights violators, and old habits die hard.

After decades in the shadows, Myanmar’s sudden opening-up to the outside is shining a new light on the country -- and revealing, amongst other things, one of Asia’s most vibrant golf communities.

Behind Myanmar’s “bamboo curtain,” golf, a relic of British colonialism, has been an enduring pastime with scores of public courses -- often with green fees as low as $5 -- and a dozen driving ranges in Yangon alone.

According to Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han, a highly successful Myanmar golfer who first represented his country at the 1980 World Cup, many visitors are taken aback when they see the extent of the country's facilities.

“People don't realize how popular golf is in Myanmar. They don’t know that we already have such a strong golf culture,” Han told AFP. “There are lots of public courses. It’s like Scotland or Australia. You don’t have to be a member, you can just turn up and play.”

Han estimated there were up to 80 courses in Myanmar, formerly called Burma, which borders Thailand and has an estimated population of 54 million. Its golf-playing history of 100 years is among the longest in Asia.

Now the relaxation of military-ruled Myanmar in politics and border controls is expected to bring an influx of investment, including plush new golf resorts, greater prize money, and more opportunities for the country’s players.

“It’s great news now that the country is opening up for business, and I think once the economy gets better and a lot of middle-class people are able to afford playing, I’m sure they’re going to pick up golf,” said Han. . . .

Golf was first played in Myanmar by the British military, who left behind several courses when the country gained independence in 1948. Since then, it has remained mainly the preserve of the military and business elite.

But Han said it was just a matter of time before Myanmar’s economy improves, swelling the middle class and leading more people to seek out golf, as has happened in other growing Asian countries. . . .