On the Mark

Missing Africa Already

Please forgive me. I’m going to talk about myself. In just a few weeks my family and I will be leaving Uganda after eleven great years. So I have no choice but to pop my scrapbook on you table and wax nostalgic on what I will dearly miss. When we decided to move to Africa in the mid-90’s, in sold my golf clubs and virtually gave up the game. I had no knowledge of the thriving golf community here in East Africa. But shortly after I arrived in Kenya (1997) I was invited to play golf at Limuru Country Club. A cold day of golf – I could see my breath –is not what I expected to find in Africa. My golf world would soon be greatly expanded.

Limuru was my introduction to golf in Africa. It was the second time I had ever played with a caddy (the first time was at Riviera Country Club in California where it set me back $50, and the caddy was shared, carrying two bags). I had forgotten that great feeling of walking down the first fairway carrying just your driver. Of course it helps the feelings when you are a mile high and your ball carries an extra 20 yards. The joy was soon halted when I was forced to drop my drawers after my first up close and very personal experience with safari ants.

Soon after Limuru I experienced Windsor in Kenya. The two things I remember about Windsor were standing on the first tee thinking, ‘What a beautiful place,’ and then spending the rest of the time looking for my golf ball. That course is not so postcard pleasant when all you see are dead leaves under the eucalyptus trees as you mutter , ’ It’s gotta be here somewhere.’

I played at Karen Country Club in the Kenya Match Play Championship a few years later and remembered thinking the course looks and feels like a country club in Small Town USA. I will never forget my first round match three against the father of the golf pro. He was a retired horse jockey, a 7 handicap, and about as tall as my driver. I am guessing that being that close to the ground does not help you hit the ball far, but it helps you knock putts in from all over the place. It certainly worked for him.

Our match was close for most of the day when we came to the 6th hole (our 15th) all square. It is a long par four, about 450 yards. I hit a great drive and had exactly 150 yards to the hole. I proceeded to hit a perfect 8-iron to 12 feet. He had hit his typical short drive and pulled his second shot into the rough and was left with more than 100 yards.

I thought to myself, ‘it’s about time for me to take advantage.’ That thought lasted about 10 seconds. His 100 yard wedge found the hole for what I thought was a miracle birdie, but he acted like he holes out from 100 yards everyday (he probably does).Of course I missed my birdie putt and eventually lost the match. That’s my lasting memory of Karen.

We moved to Uganda in 1999 and lived in eastern Uganda (Bunyole) for five years. I joined the Uganda Golf Club in 2000 but up to now I still feel like a visitor, I play there so seldom – sad but true. But I did not come to Africa to play golf.

There is something special about a golf course in the middle of a city. Los Angeles Country Club is like that. You drive up to the gate there and think, ‘There‘s a golf course in there? Are you kidding me? ‘Then you find there is not one course but two, and they are two of the most beautiful golf courses you had ever seen. It is like entering a fantasy land.

Uganda Golf Club is special because it is so visible to the public – too visible for my taste. For instance on the 16th tee, I prefer not to have to hold my breath and pray my ball doesn’t find its way through the wind screen and onto the front seat of a Mercedes. Of course, I normally let my fear rule me and overcorrect and end up on the 15th tee box (which is a good line to the hole actually).

But that drive does not affect me mentally like that drive on number five. Ten years on, that hole still messes with my mind – Kitante on the left and forest on the right. And if you play safe (short) off the tee you still have to tussle with Kitante as it crosses the fairway up ahead. Diabolical. Yet a good drive sets up an easy birdie – at least for those of you who can putt. I have realized, however, that it is hard to hit a good drive when your hands are wrapped firmly around your neck.

Four par fives on the front nine alone makes UGC unique .But the par –four number 12 is one of the most beautiful holes I have ever seen, both aesthetically and by design. Making par there feels like a birdie. Unfortunately, making a six there comes as easy as does my annoyance with bodas in Kampala.

But the true character of golf in Africa, and therefore my lasting memories, comes from the people. You have to admit that there is something about the variety of golf swings here in Africa. The swings are not fashioned after the Big Easy (Ernie ELS) OR Fred Couples .They are more like Jim Furyk, or Happy Gilmore. Utilitarian comes to mind.(Never in my life did I think I would see a scratch golfer hitting 280 yard drives cross- handed .)As they say , ‘it’s a scorecard, not a post card.’

I consider myself blessed to have played golf with Ministers of Parliament, farmers, travelling businessmen, tourists , missionaries , even my magician friends and magazine publishers –and of course , young men who have lost their families to war in the north. I wish I could have played a lot more.
Thank you Kenya and Uganda for making me feel welcome to play golf here, and for allowing me to experience this great game of golf with you. The next time you are in California, look me up. But I won’t be showing you the great feeling of walking up the fairway with just a driver.

There you will experience a five-and-a-half hour round for $100. But it will be relaxing, because we will enjoy it in the comfort of a golf cart .And if you’re not taller than my driver, you’ll be my partner.

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