Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Week That Was, january 8, 2017

     By now, you’ve probably heard that Jack Nicklaus has designed a golf course in Turkmenistan, a nation that most people couldn’t find on a map if their lives depended on it. (Hint: It’s a former Soviet satellite.) Needless to say, Turkmenistan has virtually no home-grown golfers. But money talks, and the world’s best-known “signature” architect has reportedly made five visits, with more to come.
     No surprise here, but the course, at Ashgabat Golf Club, will be the nation’s first. It’s scheduled to open this summer.
     Nicklaus was selected by Gurbanguly “Spellcheck” Berdymukhamedov, Turkmenistan’s president for life. Berdimuhamedov rules an energy-rich, increasingly wealthy nation, and he’s eager to capitalize on his nation’s tourism potential. In fact, the course at Ashgabat was no one-shot deal. Nicklaus has agreed to design at least one more course in Turkmenistan, at an emerging resort along the Caspian Sea.
     Make no mistake, though: Nicklaus is cashing checks from a tyrant. Berdimuhamedov’s corrupt regime has drawn comparisons to those in North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, and other unsavory nations. Turkmenistan offers no freedom of religion, no freedom of the press, and really, no freedom of anything. The BBC calls it “one of the most repressive states in the world,” with a human rights record that’s “one of the worst of the worst.”
     Berdimuhamedov knows that he can’t make Turkmenistan a vacation destination until he polishes its public image, and that’s where Nicklaus, with his spotless reputation, comes in. Golf’s most effective spokesman is now Berdimuhamedov’s best-known publicist, not to mention a trigger for economic development. Ashgabat Golf Club will spark more growth in the capital city, and the course on the Caspian Sea will help to create what Turkmenistan’s tourism officials hope will be “the Costa Del Sol of Central Asia.”
     Golf-course architects occasionally work in some dreadful places and for reprehensible people, but jeez, working for Berdimuhamedov is like working for Darth Vader. He’s one of the worst people in the entire universe. And Nicklaus’ commitment to his golf ambitions is tacitly an endorsement of policies contrary to fundamental American values.
     Nicklaus is not naïve about politics or business, and he most certainly appreciates the value of his name. He has no need to go over to the Dark Side. He’s wealthy beyond belief, and he’s designed so many golf courses in so many countries that he doesn’t need a few in a remote dictatorship to cement his legacy. Why he’s chosen to associate with a despot is a mystery.
     When Jennifer Lopez entertained at one of Berdimuhamedov’s birthday parties, she got lots of criticism. The heat should be on Nicklaus as well.

     Some information in the preceding post originally appeared in the January 2015 and May 2013 issues of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.

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