Archive for Thursday, January 15, 2004

Opinion: Golf course triple bogeys

January 15, 2004

Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor . . . just keep them off our golf course.

It was Monday afternoon when I scanned headlines from around the country and eyeballed one that seemed interesting for personal and professional reasons. "Squatters evicted from golf course," the headline read.

Click, download, up pops the page. Miami (AP) are the first words that caught my attention and the lead paragraph confirmed what I thought unimaginable.

A homeless man who lived at the Palmetto Golf Course in Miami for 40 years was ordered to leave by course officials this week after several golfers complained to management (I'm summarizing and trying to avoid plagiarism here, but you get the gist).

The squatter's name is Kenny Bethel, a man I met at Palmetto this summer while vacationing in Miami. The official reason for his eviction: trespassing.

Bethel, who had lived at Palmetto since he was 15 years old, makes (or shall I say, made) the little money he earned by selling discarded golf balls he'd find on the course or in its canals.

That is, until some uptight Newt Gingrich-Rush Limbaugh fatcats complained that Kenny's presence littered the serenity of their precious golf course. Course officials, careful to avoid losing any business and quick to conform with this country's worship of the almighty dollar, complied by showing Kenny and his wife, the 19th hole, the big adios.

Instead of the comfortable living the Bethels found sleeping on the course, the couple now resides precisely where mainstream America wants them and other homeless people: underneath a bridge, where they can't be seen, a problem that doesn't exist because eyes can't be placed upon it.

It's an act I find reprehensible and unwarranted and I'll tell you why: to my knowledge, that man never hurt one living soul on that course, a goat ranch I'll never play again. Take a flame thrower to it for all I care.

During my first round at Palmetto, I bought a hodgepodge of balls from Kenny (he needed the money and I needed ammunition to fire at the shot devouring course) which he sold for $10 per 50 balls. The next day he asked me if I needed more (he remembered I liked Maxflis), which I did, and handed me a few.

I reached for my wallet and he grinned, said no charge today and told me to enjoy my vacation.

Afterward I watched Kenny and his wife stroll away peacefully toward some other crevice of the course, no doubt continuing their endless pursuit of wayward golf balls. To me, it seemed the couple wanted nothing more from life than to be away from the blacktop jungle of the city and surrounded by the tranquility only a golf course allows.

When I told one of my editors I planned to write a column about the Bethels, he asked me, will people care? I don't know, but my idealistic side hopes they do.

I hope they care there is a man and wife, and millions more like them, sleeping underneath a bridge tonight. I hope they care the so-called gentleman's game of golf could have turned a blind eye and kept offering the Bethel's asylum but instead reverted to its prejudiced roots. I hope they care that there is a difference between the law and the laws of human decency.

Mainly, I hope they care that golf robbed Kenny Bethel, a tired and poor man, of one of the few bright spots in his life, which is the biggest trespass of all.

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