Many of you know Jiffer, my lovely friend (and Pink House alumnus) who is currently in Afghanistan, making sure the elections happen. Jiff was also on her high school golf team in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, and taught me a few tips last year that truly helped my game when I was first starting.
How are those two related? Glad you asked. I’d heard an interview on NPR with Mohammad Afzal Abdul, the only golf pro at Afghanistan’s Kabul Golf Club, where he described the course’s peculiar greens and bizarre hazards.
Imagine our delight when we got word yesterday that Jiffer and her partner won the first Kabul Desert Open since the 1979 Soviet invasion! Her friend Tom filed this story for the Telegraph in England, and I’ll just let the story speak for itself. Pictures are courtesy Jiff herself.
view from the 1st tee
Players dodge the mine hazards at Kabul’s golf open
By Tom Coghlan in Kabul
A wayward shot could land you in a minefield. The fairway was only recently cleared of three burnt-out Russian tanks and a multi-barrelled rocket launcher.
Afghanistan’s only golf course held the first Kabul Desert Open golf tournament since the 1979 Soviet invasion yesterday, despite some unusual “course hazards”.
Twenty teams drawn from the city’s expatriates competed on the nine-hole course. The tournament’s winners were two American UN workers: Sam Hendricks, 35, and Jiffer Bourguignon, 28.
above: Sam swings; below: Jiffer’s pelvis
John Dempsey, an American lawyer working for the justice ministry and the event’s organiser, told entrants they were playing “at their own risk”. However, despite a distant burst of automatic gunfire midway through the day, the sole casualty was a stray goat hit by Mr Hendricks with a drive off the fourth tee. He was allowed to retake the shot.
The club, set in the foothills outside Kabul, opened in 1967 with lush greens and numerous water hazards. Today the fairways are overgrown with thorn bushes, riddled with trenches and the water features have long since dried up.
The fairways are in such a poor condition that shots are played off portable squares of plastic turf. The only bunkers are of the military variety. Instead of greens, there are “browns”, made of a mixture of compacted sand and oil, which slope sympathetically towards the hole.
“Attack the course! Play aggressively,” read the club instructions. The arrival of the Red Army caused an unwelcome hiatus in the club’s history. It only reopened again last year.
While they were here, the Russians were not keen golfers, apart from one ambassador who played frequently off a handicap of 24. Unpopular to this day, Russians are still blackballed from the club.
“Foreigners play here. And Afghans. But not Russians,” said the club professional, Mohammad Afzal Abdul, 48, who was imprisoned by the Russians.
He was also arrested and held for two months by the Taliban after they discovered his collection of tournament trophies and accused him of working for foreigners. “They beat me with cables,” he said. “All the Taliban are banned from this club and so are al-Qa’eda.”
A scratch player who has worked at the club on and off for 30 years, he recalled the 1970s as a golden age when a host of outstanding amateurs were to be found on the links. “One was an Englishman called Murray Poole, a very fine player,” said Mr Abdul.
The area has been the scene of fighting at various times during the 30-year war in Afghanistan, most recently in 2001 when fighters loyal to the powerful warlord Abdul Rassul Sayyaf fought against the Hazara warriors of Abdul Ali Mazari.
Kabul Golf Club’s caddies
To deter kidnappers, many players yesterday chose to play with an armed caddy, apparently not reassured by the police presence. The club currently has 300 Afghan members and more than 100 foreign members. There is no dress code.
Unusually, given Afghanistan’s often restrictive attitude towards women, female members are most welcome. But there is no 19th hole and, given the country’s policy on alcohol, no likelihood of one opening soon.
Post Script from Jiffer: yes, Tom got my age wrong – 31 but thank you!
– The goat Sam hit was not hurt in this incident.
– Our caddy was unarmed. love, jiff