Putt-Putt Prohibited


Golf may not be one of the most action-packed sports, but it’s making headlines these days in Vietnam: Dinh La Thang, the Minister of Transport, has banned play among senior officials. The regulation was imposed to encourage employees to work harder, as well as to prevent recreational misuse of the government’s resources.

Thang, who was just appointed to his post in August, has been thought to be imposing sensationalist rules like ordering departmental staff to take the bus once a week and now this golf ban to raise his new profile. But it isn’t just Thang; the Vietnamese government has a history of punitive regulations, like when the Prime Minister forbade holiday parties last year to curb state spending and runaway inflation. Indeed traffic bottlenecks, one of Thang’s primary responsibilities, are an increasing national concern: the country’s car accident rate is one of the highest in Asia, according to the Financial Times.

“Playing sports in general and golf in particular is good, but when our country is still poor, and the companies themselves are struggling with financial problems, I think we should pay more attention and save more time to work,” said Thang. “The ban is quite appropriate in this case. Instead of playing golf, they can play tennis or other sports during their spare time.”

But why golf? And not say, tennis or badminton, other popular pastimes of politicians? Perhaps it’s the leisure sport’s link to wealth inequality and corruption. As in the rest of the world, games of golf are a common way to build contacts and set up deals, and the status sport has become favored among white-collar workers since the lift of Communism in the late 1980’s.

Certainly there are always exceptions, but this association between the recreational activity and men of a certain standing makes the sport an easy target. In fact, golf club memberships were used to crack down on the luxurious lifestyles of Chinese officials just a few months ago: 20 government employees were subject to public outrage after it was revealed that they had paid 398,000 yuan to join a golf club. That’s roughly €44,250 or 40 times the average farmer’s annual income.

Whatever the reasons for swinging at golf, It’s easy to remain skeptical that such a ploy would work. Backroom deals and procrastination alike are just par for the course, after all. Karaoke bar owners in Vietnam might suddenly find themselves a lot busier.

Image (cc) courtesy of Marcus Quigmire