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Afghanistan's only golf course: Bring your clubs and AK-47

The nine-hole Kabul golf course is the only one in Afghanistan. The greens are petroleum black. The fairways filled with rocks and scrub. But that doesn't stop golf aficionados who play with a ball finder and armed security guards.

By Timothy KennyContributor / June 24, 2010

Michael Alexander, a Brit who is a consultant in Kabul, plays golf during the Kabul Golf Club tournament on May 21.

Timothy Kenny

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Qargha, Afghanistan

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After war, a time for golf.

There is nary a blade of grass at the Kabul Golf Club, just outside Afghanistan’s capital. The greens are not green; they are hard-packed brown sand, laced with oil and swept clean to keep the putting surface smooth. The fairways are rock-strewn and scrub-filled.

Ball finders – required, according to course rules – accompany golfers and their caddies, who carry a swatch of artificial turf and tee up each new shot. Without the ball finders to search in all the brush and undergrowth, a round of golf would likely be much shorter here at Afghanistan’s only course. Why? Because most golfers would give up before finishing.

Michael Alexander, a Londoner who has played his way across some of Britain’s best courses, notes that golf at the nine-hole Kabul Golf Club provides moments that playing at St. Andrews can’t.

“The Army checkpoint,” for example, he says. “The free [ball] drop at the Army checkpoint – that was the real difference with St. Andrews,” says Mr. Alexander, tongue in cheek.

A recent charity tournament here brought out 44 golfers, paying $100 each, for the privilege of playing the hard-scrabble course west of Kabul.

The tournament netted $4,000 last year for two local charities, said tournament director Richard Day, a Canadian working in Afghanistan since November 2006. This year’s outing, the third in three years, is expected to donate a like amount to two local nongovernmental groups, the Women of Project Hope and PARSA, which work to assist disadvantaged members of Afghan’s society such as the disabled, widowed, or orphaned.

Course founder and club pro, Mohammad Afzal Abdul, opened the course in 2004, after the Taliban first fled Afghanistan and a generation-long era of war had begun to fade. Security remains tight however during the tournament. Police toting AK-47s keep a watchful eye from nearby hilltops as two dozen or so armed men walk the course.

The future of golf in Afghanistan may appear uncertain over the near term, but not to Mr. Abdul. “I teach [every week] 100 to 110 boys, after-school students,” he said. “I want to teach everyone golf.”

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