Golf Provides Hope in Kabul

It is said sport can change the world. Perhaps, perhaps not. For every story of a civil war stopping so that both side could catch a glimpse of Pele’s genius there are a thousand tales of drinking binges, doping tests and betting scandals.

Now and then, though, it is good to cast aside your cynicism and allow yourself to be uplifted. Sometimes sport can throw a light on the darkest of lives and transform, even in a small way, the most troubled of places.

So every golfer around the globe, from Saturday hacker to millionaire major winner, should be applauding the hardy souls who have managed to reopen the Kabul Golf Club in Afghanistan. If you think the course looks to have more in common with a battlefield than the pristine fairways of Augusta then you’d be right. In the 1990’s the Kabul course was, literally, a war zone witnessing clashes between rival Mujahideen factions.

While Donald Trump battles environmentalists in Aberdeenshire the course owners in Kabul had different concerns. The course had to be cleared of landmines before it was playable. Oiled sand is spread to form a putting surface because there is no irrigation. Caddies carry Kalashnikov rifles along with the clubs.

The course professional, Afzal Abdul, has a slightly different life to his colleagues in the west. In fact he has been jailed twice for the simple crime of being a golfer. The Soviets locked him up after storming the clubhouse: golf, they believed, was a sign of his involvement with Western diplomats.

The Taleban, for whom golf was the worst of Western excess distilled into sport, confiscated his clubs, his balls, his trophies and then threw him back into jail. Eventually he left for Pakistan and five years of driving taxis. When the Taleban fell he returned. Returned to his clubs, to his dreams: “I became young again” he said.

Once a scratch golfer, Afghanistan’s finest, Afzhal has seen the terrors that have befallen his country. The constant in his life is golf. Reopening the golf club symbolises that. Afzhal would like Tiger Woods to play the course. That might be too much to hope for

The players are drawn from the international organisations that are trying to solve Afghanistan’s problems. Some clubs were donated by a UN employee. It’s a case of get what you can and get on with it.

Golf changing the world? Perhaps. But reopening the Kabul Golf Course is a small step towards normality. For men like Afzhal that is victory enough.

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