Monday, November 29, 2004

Afghans Celebrate Freedom By Playing Golf

This story needs no commentary other than to say we are obviously winning the war on

QARGHA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - At a resort that became a battlefield, Afghans teed off Friday in their country's first open golf tournament in more than 30 years.
As is still the way in Afghanistan, the first shot of the day at the Kabul Golf Club went to the local militia commander, applauded by his men with shouldered Kalashnikovs.
But organizers say they hope their tournament, contested by 40 local caddies in a picturesque valley just outside the capital, will help bring a new era in which the only risks are from golf balls, not bullets, flying down the fairways.
The club describes itself as the best and only course in Afghanistan and promises "golf with an attitude."
Hazards are unorthodox, from the bombed out club house below the dramatic first tee on a ledge high up the valley, to the odd spent shell or scurrying lizard.
Club pro Mohammad Nazir Popal insists there is no danger, even though the nine-hole course became a battlefield in the 1990s when rival Mujahideen factions fought among themselves over overthrowing a Soviet-backed regime.
The club was forced to close because of the fighting and then when the Taliban swept to power all hope of playing golf, which the hardline Islamic regime associated with wealthy Western diplomats, was lost.
It reopened this year, but only after it was thoroughly checked for mines and other unexploded ordnance.
A lack of water means there is not a patch of grass to be seen and the greens are actually "browns" made from oiled sand, yet the course has become popular with a few dozen hardy souls among Kabul's 2,000-strong foreign community.
The Kabul Golf Club might not be the smartest in the world, but it is certainly affordable, with a green fee of $10 and annual membership just 7,500 afghanis ($160).
A surrounding park is also attracting fresh interest. Former refugee Zabir Sidiq is rebuilding a restaurant and nightclub overlooking the course, which he visited as a young child.
"In the past there was a lot of killing going on here," he said. "Right now we are trying to fix up this area and give people some hope to understand a better life."