The legend of Bagger Castro

Rick Robinson Author, Writ of Mandamus
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“Ask anybody. It’s fun. It’s hard and you stand on green, green grass and it’s just you and the ball and there ain’t nobody to beat up on but yourself. Just like Mr. Newnan keeps hittin’ himself with the golf club when he gets angry. He’s broken his toe three times on account of it. It’s the only game I know that you can call a penalty on yourself, if you’re honest, which most people are. There just ain’t no other game like it.” — Hardy Greaves, “The Legend of Bagger Vance”

If you love the game of golf, you’re likely familiar with this quote from “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” An avid golfer, I’ve watched this movie as often as my wife has seen The Bridges of Fried Green Tomatoes Colored Purple That Got Their Groove Back – or whatever that damn movie she made me watch the other night was called.

In “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” busted war hero Capt. Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) looks to his mystical caddie Bagger Vance (Will Smith) to rediscover the swing that made him the golfing legend of Savannah, Georgia. Junuh faces his own demons as he plays an exhibition match against Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.

In a mid-movie moment of classic foreshadowing, a young golf enthusiast named Hardy Greaves gives the aforementioned speech on why golf is so special.

Then, in the closing moments of the movie, Captain Junuh removes a twig of pine straw that causes his ball to move. When Junuh declares that he must call a penalty on himself on the last hole, the match is all but lost.

Despite his previous speech on the honesty of golfers, Hardy Greaves pleads for Junuh to ignore the infraction. “No one will ever know,” he says with tears in his eyes.

“I will, Hardy,” Junuh replies. “And so will you.”

The PGA and the Legend of Bagger Castro

I bring up this movie because those entrepreneurial Castro boys, Fidel and Raul, want to bring resort golf to Cuba.

And who can blame them? What with the low wages and sub-standard working conditions, Cuba is the perfect place for foreign tourists to experience 18 holes of politically repressed island links. And when the round is over a foursome can enjoy hand-rolled Cuban cigars not available at their local municipal course’s pro shop.

Due to long-standing U.S. economic sanctions against the Castro regime, the PGA of America could not develop a golf course in Cuba. The United Kingdom, however, has no such trade restrictions. So the British-based PGA, Ltd (of which the PGA of America is a member) went about selling the PGA brand to non-US developers for Cuba based resorts.

Think of your typical Tournament Players Club course, but with a Policia Nacional Revolucionaria for a starter and gun toting soldiers monitoring pace of play.

In March, 2011, Capitol Hill Cubans, an American based anti-Castro group that supports continuing current economic sanctions, called foul on an announced deal by blogging that the PGA was using its British brand to skirt US law. Rightfully, the PGA called a penalty on itself and the deal for an official PGA resort in Cuba fell through.

Now, according to an article in this week’s Miami Herald, 360 Vox Corp (formerly Leisure Canada) did what it could never do in Cuba – it filed a lawsuit against the PGA of America for allegedly influencing the collapse of the real estate development deal.

Congratulations Mr. Canadian Plaintiff, welcome to a country that allows grievances to be addressed in a proper judicial forum. People who allege undue influence under the Castro regime are routinely executed.

The Castro regime should not get a mulligan

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent years as to whether the sanctions against the Castro regime should be lifted. President Obama has brought the issue to a head by loosening certain ones and instructing the US Interest Section in Havana to turn its back on opposition rebels.

This case – and the action of the PGA of America – goes beyond that policy debate.

Had a PGA-branded golf course become reality in Cuba, most tourists would not think through the geographic locale of the name on the clubhouse door. In fact, because of the stature of the logo, I would suspect that most golfers would assume it was PGA of America behind the development.

In “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” when Captain Junuh is about to declare the penalty to his playing partners, Hardy Greaves argues that the rule about changing the position of the ball is stupid. Maybe. But if we allow it to be violated we’ll know. And so will the world.