- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — A wayward shot could land you in a minefield. The fairway was only recently cleared of three burned-out Russian tanks and a multibarreled 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 U.N. workers: Sam Hendricks, 35, and Jiffer Bourguignon, 28.

John Dempsey, an American lawyer working for the justice ministry and the event’s organizer, told entrants they were playing “at their own risk.”

To deter kidnappers, many players yesterday chose to compete using an armed caddy, apparently unreassured by the police presence.

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 and 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 toward the hole.

“Attack the course! Play aggressively,” say 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. Unpopular to this day, Russians are still blackballed from the club.

The club currently has 300 Afghan members and more than 100 foreign members. Given Afghanistan’s often restrictive attitude toward women, female members are most welcome. There is no dress code. But there is no 19th hole and, given the country’s policy on alcohol, no likelihood of one opening soon.

“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 Qaeda.”

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.

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 Rasul Sayyaf fought against the Hazara warriors of Abdul Ali Mazari.

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