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Sport of Kings, Maharajas May Come to Fort Bragg (Jan. 30, 2002)

Although the North Coast gets more rain than the state average, it is misleading and troubling to make much of this. Mendocino County long ago sold much of its water birthright for a pittance; thus much needed water is presently diverted southward — outta here. Here on the coast our water needs are particularly critical. This is because we have so many motels that get the lion’s share of the water. Rates have gone up. But as thirsty for water as we are, we have nevertheless heard a proposal from some Fort Bragg entrepreneurs who say, “You say you’re thirsty. Here’s a plate of salt.”

In this instance, the plate of salt is the proposed golf course which, in turn, is presented to us as an equation, but except for the slowest among us, we’ve seen what kind of equation it really is. For example: The proposed golf course would be for the few who can afford it. A very few others will make money from it. The key word here is few. 

But all of us would suffer because we’ll jeopardize the water slated for our homes and schools; water rates will increase still further, the land will be polluted, and so will the water. What’s going on here? Are practically all of us certifiable? When contracts are made, each party is supposed to benefit. Where is the benefit to the average Fort Bragg logger, or waitress or dental technician? 

On the other hand you can’t fight reality. People like getting conned. Who knows? Later they can laugh and say they’ve had an experience. At any rate, if you’re really going to face reality, you’ve got to grapple and come to terms with it. As long as were being conned, let’s not have it be over the game of golf, for god’s sake. Let’s be bold. Let’s be serious. Let’s hold that thought.

When the great British general Wellington gave Napoleon his final, crushing defeat, Wellington credited his brave Redcoats, not with the training they received when recruited; rather he credited his victory to the games on “the playing fields of Eton,” where his officers had once played as schoolboys. Wellington’s is a noble sentiment. It also makes a lot of sense. But, the athletic fields Wellington had in mind, believe me, were not golf courses. In golf, the only body contact that ever occurs is when the golfer leans over to stick his colored wooden tee into the soft brown earth. Just as Wellington wasn’t talking about golf, we shouldn’t be either. Golf is simply billiards with scenery. 

Not to worry, for as long as Fort Braggers are going to accept being bamboozled out of their drinking water (while in return they get polluted drinking water and higher rates for that very privilege), we can infer that the the tradition of being screwed, and accepting it, is fine. No prob. But one of these days Fort Bragg’s civic leaders are going to demand that they be screwed with class.

Now, what if you can combine the class that’s needed, with a sport that uses less water, and, if possible, less land. Surely it should be a sport we can be proud of, one that could breed future officers of the Marine Corps, future jockeys, perhaps — a sport that could benefit many areas of Fort Bragg: orthopedic surgeons, vacation rentals, B&Bs, leather goods stores, fancy restaurants, wineries, stables, composters, and feed stores. My suggested alternative to golf is polo. Besides, polo players have so much more money than golfers — so much more that maybe some of it really would trickle down. Wouldn’t that be a switch?

Citizens of Fort Bragg, I propose we drop the golf idea on the 19th hole. We can save miles of walking, which is not the most exciting thing to watch in the first place. Instead, we can have just one fairly large rectangular field, where both spectator and player are caught up in the sounds of thundering hooves, the trembling of the earth, the sound of mallet cracking against ball, the electrifying tableau before you of dazzling grace and electrifying danger.That’s polo! Golf? That’s Bob Hope.

The English brought polo from India; Oklahoma Cherokee comedian Will Rogers took polo from Long Island and brought it to California. The super-rich played it — Vanderbilts, Whitneys, DuPonts, Mellons… That’s what we could have in Fort Bragg: the only California polo field north of Cloverdale. Imagine, the Annual International Polo Playoffs. Location — Fort Bragg. We have the will; do we have the vision? Please, get serious, now! KZYX today — 60 Minutes tomorrow. The spirit of Paul Bunyan whispers, “Go for it!”

Last week when I attended a media-sponsored event at the Fremont Hotel in San Francisco, I heard the great Bombay author’s son, Narayan Hemchandra, who is CEO of the Global Polo Association. He had been invited to an editorial seminar, attended by many of the Dan Rathers, the Sumner Redstones, and Rupert Murdochs of the planet. The seminar dealt with the dip in community morale along both coasts and even in some parts of flyover country, which has allegedly taken place since 9/11. As a representative of a local paper, I was placed in that grouping of attendees, who came from cities with populations between 5,000 and 20,000. Most local papers declined to send a representative. I was the only reporter north of Cloverdale. 

This great Bombay author’s son told us of the poverty in Calcutta, although there’s plenty in Bombay, too. This son knew Mother Teresa. He was made sad by India’s unspeakable wretchedness. He spoke, but did not dwell on, the untouchables. Despite this, not so long ago, India came up with the Nuclear Bomb, he explained to us, and exploded it. Narayan Hemchandra’s son quoted his father’s guru’s son who said, “Just as Wellington won at Waterloo from his playing fields, so did India get its inspiration that led to our Nuclear Bomb from our playing fields. And on OUR fields our finest game is Polo. Can’t you just see by now how badly Fort Bragg needs polo? And polo needs Fort Bragg.

Far-fetched? I don’t think so. I’ve discussed this with countless Fort Braggers over recent weeks, and those who say polo is far-fetched are those who say a golf course for Fort Bragg is just the very thing. Finally, there’s the horse hockey stuff you get from horses that you don’t get from people… Well, yes and no. But the horse hockey thing is organic. When fresh, it is plangent, pungent, with a hint of early summer-mown grass. If you’re going to have stuff going into your groundwater, wouldn’t it be better to have it come from horses than from Monsanto?

It takes a lot of money to play polo. I mean, big bucks. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with billionaires. There’ll be so much money that maybe some of it will trickle down. Wouldn’t that be a switch? Presently, our web site is being created. Soon you’ll be able to buy tee-shirt, mallets, balls, helmets, and small stuffed, faux horses, with 80 percent real hair. NOT SOLD IN STORES.

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