Connect to share and comment

Income inequality is surging, and there are few countries where it is rising faster than the United States. The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the US a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences. GlobalPost sets out on a reporting journey to get at the ‘ground truth’ of inequality through the lenses of education, race, immigration, health care, government, labor and natural resources. The hope is to hold a mirror up to the US to see how it compares to countries around the world.

In Palm Beach, Donald Trump's exclusive golf resort sits next to county jail

Members who have paid a $250,000 initiation fee play in sight of 1500 inmates living in a modern American slum.

Editor’s Note: In the parlance of golf, it’s called ‘playing through.’

And the phrase seems a fitting way to describe how a wealthy, global elite manages to bypass the often harsh inequalities that exist at many of the most expensive, members-only golf clubs around the world.

The well-to-do who can afford the expensive course fees only rarely recognize just how vastly different life is for those who toil on the grounds or carry the golf bags and live below the poverty line. GlobalPost set out to explore this divide in the highest realms of golf, from the Gary Player-designed course on the desperately poor outskirts of Myanmar’s capital Yangon to the Trump International Golf Club in a deeply divided West Palm Beach, Florida.

Caddies, for example, who carry the golf bags for members at Trump International are paid a base rate of approximately $100 per day — about $24,000 per year — at Palm Beach with a membership fee of $250,000 reveals a disparity of wealth that is pretty much on par with the up to $1,250 a year that a caddie makes in one of Myanmar’s top courses compared to the $50,000 membership fees there.

From the golf courses of Palm Beach to Myanmar, GlobalPost found jarring levels of inequality between those who can afford membership and those who work on the course.

“They don’t even know we are here, and they have no clue how the rest of us are living.”
~Trina Morgan

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — Drive the palm-lined entrance to the Trump International Golf Club to where valets park a line of luxury vehicles that include a Ferrari GT, a Mercedes Benz SLS, a Cadillac Escalade ESV and the white Bentley owned by ‘The Donald’ himself.

Enter the marble foyer with a chandelier of gold and crystal, the antique Venetian cherub statues, the plush leather couches and out onto the back patio where Trump’s private helicopter awaits and where members head out to play on a picture-perfect March morning.

Look beyond the practice tees where Donald Trump — clad in his signature red golf cap — is warming up, and peer just over the crest of a perfectly manicured fairway and just behind a grove of mature Acacia trees and there stands the Palm Beach County Jail.

From a distance, the white, nine-story jail looks deceptively like an office building with its clean architectural lines and its reflective windows that conceal the steel bars of the cells. It would be hard to know from the vantage point of the fairway of one of the world’s more exclusive golf clubs, where members pay a $250,000 initiation fee, that there were 1,536 inmates inside those invisible cells.

It would be impossible to see the inmates shackled in chains as they were being processed into the detention facility that morning, a line of men and women who were mostly black and Hispanic and almost all poor. It would be hard to fathom that just a few hundred yards away, these people were being initiated into a criminal justice system that would in most cases condemn them to further poverty and further desperation.

America has the world’s largest prison population and in many ways poverty is hidden by incarceration. The criminal industrial complex with its warehouses of prisons and jails has become a kind of hidden American slum, a way to tuck away behind bars all the poverty and despair and he violence and drugs that come with it.

“I guarantee you those guys playing golf, they don’t know about those people in that jail and they don’t even think about those people. They don’t want to see poverty, or see inequality and they do everything they can to be sure they don’t have to see it,” said Harriet Goldin, a member of Trump’s nearby exclusive club Mar-a-Lago and a wealthy widow now remarried, when asked about the stark contrast of the golf club and the jail so close to each other.

Inside the golf club, at the members-only grill, there were small clusters of men in pastel colored golf shirts and healthy tans laughing and trading barbs as they eyed a television above a polished oak bar. The CNBC business channel was blaring at an unusually high volume. A ticker at the bottom of the screen flashed a list of stocks with a majority of the small arrows pointing up,