A Shot Gun Start – As in Golf, not War
A weekend of golf and fun – in Kabul? As the invitation to participate in a charity golf tournament at the Kabul Golf Club (KGC) landed in my In Box, it certainly did catch my attention right away.
I had heard of this illustrious club, but had always been skeptical that anyone actually ever played golf there, or that in fact, the grounds were not still full of landmines. The invitation went on to say that golf knowledge and experience was not required; this was to be a fun day out in the fresh air, with all proceeds going to a local charity. Enough said, I signed up to participate.
The morning of the 4th Annual ASI Invitational Charity Golf Tournament saw over 60 international golf ameteurs and enthusiasts and many more Afghan curious spectators descend upon the KGC. We gathered around the dilapidated old Club Office, where the atmosphere was boisterous and jolly. Event organsiers quickly divided participants up into 11 teams of four players each. Scattered over the 9 holes of the sandy, dusty, and scrubby course, armed with local caddies and ball boys, the tournament kicked off with a ‘shot gun’ start in the late morning.
A few words about the KGC; this is a course with history and one of the most colourful club managers imaginable. Mohammad Afzal Abdul – “Abdul” to his friends, clientele and students began his relationship with golf after being handed a 5 iron by an American Embassy worker at the age of eight. He swung, hit the ball, watched its journey, and was, in that moment and for the rest of his life, a golfer. Abdul landed a spot at the KGC as a caddie, and was quickly promoted to Caddie Master. In 1975 he was promoted as the club’s teaching pro, and additionally functioned as the Club’s manager, bar tender, public relations director and, on more than on occasion, dishwasher, handyman and greens keeper.
The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Army brought the country’s fledgling golf community to a crashing halt. With tanks and artillery dug into the fairways, and the Afghan Army’s Eighth Division located down the valley, the course was caught in the crossfire of nightly battles between the Mujahideen and the Soviet and Afghan government forces. With the departure of the Soviets in 1989, the course was strewn with the dangerous litter of war.
However it was the Taliban who finally put an end, if temporarily, to the game of golf in Afghanistan. They added to the debris on the course by laying mines to detour their own enemies, and perhaps just coincidently, any golfers who may have been tempted to tee off just one final time.
Throughout all the strife, Abdul remained committed to his golf course, demanding the Soviets remove their tanks, for which he was thrown in jail. Eventually released, he was jailed again under the Taliban, and he finally was forced to give up his beloved course until the end of the Taliban era.
However none of this battle scarred past was evident during our tournament. Perhaps I did not feel comfortable holding an iron, nor was I too successful at actually hitting a ball, but the day was full of laughter, exercise, nice scenery, and good company. At a BBQ held post-tournament, we learned that over $ 4000 had been raised for the Setara High School, located in Kabul, so what better ending to a day could there be?
And what is next for the poor, beleaguered little golf course? As fate would have it, just a few days after the ASI Invitational Charity Golf Tournament, the Afghanistan Olympic Committee and the Afghanistan Golf Federation pledged 27 million Afs ($600,000) towards the greening and landscaping of the course as well as a complete overhaul for the Clubhouse. Needing a years’ worth of work, the course will be ready for serious action by this time next year.
Looking longer term, every job created by the re-development of the KGC, every young person who becomes engaged in a game rather than the many more questionable occupations Afghanistan has to offer, bring the country that much closer to realising its dream of peace. Providing a stable – and green – set of links on which young people can develop their skill and spread the golfing fervor seems like a very worthy investment.
*** Special thanks to Adam Smith International (ASI) for organising the tournament, and Neda Communications and Satchu and Zhouand law firm who also provided support for the tournament and raised funds for the Setara High School.
**** For any parties interested in donating funds for the rehabilitation of the Kabul Golf Club, please contact the Afghanistan Golf Federation, Finance Deputy Minister Mastoor.