Jan 18, 2010

Petionville Golf Course - Ground Zero In Ravaged Haiti

The Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville, nestled in the hills to the southeast of the capital was... not long ago... a bastion of affluence in the largely impoverished nation of Haiti. The Petionville Club was its hub, a place where diplomats, businessmen and visiting foreigners relaxed poolside after a game of tennis or a round of golf on the undulating nine hole course. ~ That course is now a massive refugee camp, home to tens of thousands of displaced people, most of whom have lost family and friends. It's a disaster that veteran aid workers are calling the worst they've ever faced.

Shortly after the quake struck six days ago, amidst the chaotic initial reports, I came upon a website for The Petionville Club, which featured photos of the golf course's once verdant fairways, including the one above, which judging from its title I take to be a view from the women's tee on the fifth hole. There were also shots of the the clay tennis courts and the large rectangular swimming pool (left).

The site urged members to come to "Wednesday Happy Hour" at the Zona Bar and invited them to the spa for "Gym with Gina" exercise classes. It also suggested they participate in a book club where, "In addition to the books, most members appreciate the opportunity to socialize with a diverse group of people from different sectors of the Haitian & international community while indulging in wine and exotic foods offered by members."

Today, Haiti's only golf course has become the forward operating base of the 82nd Airborne Division. Where privleged club members once dined on on grilled shrimp, and conch with creole sauce, soldiers now distribute boxed humanitarian meals to hungry children and families. The once sparkling pool is empty and debris-strewn and the fairways and greens of the golf course have been transformed into a massive tent city.

Earlier today I went back to the the Petionville Club website and saw that that the header had been changed. It now read, "The Petionville Club Base - 82nd Airborne" The navigation menu was being updated as well. At one point I refreshed my browser and in a click the list of options changed from Tennis-Golf-Racquetball-Stretching/Yoga-Restaurant/Bar to Food Distribution-Logistical-Medical-Security. Some vestiges of the lighthearted copy and alluring photos remained as of my last page view but they too are quickly being replaced by dramatic scenes of the current situation.

Before the earthquake I had never heard of Petionville Club... or its nine hole golf course with sweeping views of the sea. In fact, I never would have guessed there was a course in Haiti because, like many Americans, I knew very well that Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world... and I conveniently stored that fact in the back of my mind along with other things "I'd worry about later".

The natural disaster that took place there almost a week ago has moved me... and many others... to focus on Haiti and the Haitian people while they attempt to restore order to their devastated country. I hope we can take our assistance beyond the disaster to help them fight the poverty that we ignored for so long. There are many ways to donate to Haiti, the important thing is to find an organization that genuinely helps the people in need. I feel the Red Cross is a good place to start.

In addition Golf Dash one of my favorite golf blogs posted yesterday with a unique and thoughful suggestion on how golfers might collectively empower each other and ourselves to stick with Haiti and help this neighboring country long term.