George Monbiot apparently started the Burma nightmare for Gary Player and probably doesn't make things any better with this Guardian guest column discussing his questions for Player's design group following Player's response.
He first explains how the controversy came about:
I came across him while researching the column I wrote about Burma a fortnight ago. In trying to discover which western companies have been operating there, I stumbled upon a list of the country's recent golf course developments. He was named as the designer of the Pun Hlaing course in Rangoon. His website boasted that he had turned "a 650-acre rice paddy into The Pride of Myanmar".
I asked his company who owned the land on which the course was constructed. How many people were evicted in order to build it? Was forced labour used? As his company is based in Florida, did this work break US sanctions? It refused to answer my questions. I suggested in my column that Nelson Mandela should remove his name from the charity golf tournament Player is due to host next month.
My call was taken up by Desmond Tutu and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, which claims to own the event, asked Mr Player to stand down as the tournament's guest of honour. Player's company responded by claiming that it was in fact the joint owner of the event; he has refused to stand aside. The controversy is still raging. Cosatu has promised to turn up and protest if Player does not withdraw.
One result of the fuss is that the Gary Player Group was obliged to issue a statement about its involvement in Burma. It maintained that "the company's decision to design the course in Burma was actually humanitarian in that it took no profit from the endeavour, but rather encouraged the developer to put the money toward creating jobs, as well as the establishment of a caddy & agronomy program ... the company was paid expenses only". Converting 650 acres of rice paddy in a country suffering from malnutrition into a golf course likely to be used by the generals looks to me like an unusual object for charity, so I asked Player's company to provide some evidence for these claims.
Oh boy, here's where it reeeaaaaallllyyyy awkward.
The same statement maintained that "Gary Player has always been a great supporter of human rights" and has "a solid record of campaigning for democracy around the world". To test this claim, I ordered the book he wrote in 1966, when he was 30 years old and at the peak of his remarkable career. Grand Slam Golf is well-written and strangely compelling: it makes the game seem almost interesting, even to me. But chapter two contains the following statements: "I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid ... a nation which is the result of an African graft on European stock and which is the product of its instinct and ability to maintain civilised values and standards amongst the alien barbarians ... The African may well believe in witchcraft and primitive magic, practise ritual murder and polygamy; his wealth is in cattle. More money and he will have no sense of parental or individual responsibility, no understanding of reverence for life or the human soul which is the basis of Christian and other civilised societies. ... A good deal of nonsense is talked of, and indeed thought about 'segregation'. Segregation of one kind or another is practised everywhere in the world."
Journalists in South Africa pointed me to allegations that Gary Player was used as a kind of global ambassador by the apartheid government. In 1975 he collaborated with the Committee for Fairness in Sport, which was set up by the government to try to overcome the global sporting boycott. In 1981 he featured on the UN's blacklist of sports people breaking the boycott. So I asked Player's company questions about these incidents as well.
All this is a long time ago, and Gary Player's attitude towards the apartheid regime is very different today. But another human rights issue is still current. There is a real problem with golf, and it is not confined to the dress sense of the participants. All over the world the construction of golf courses is associated with dispossession and environmental destruction. You'll find a flavour of the controversies it stirs up in Aberdeenshire at the moment, where Donald Trump is promoting a project to create the "world's greatest golf course" on a site of special scientific interest.
From there it spirals into a rant about environmentally destructive practices in golf, not all of which are true.