The world's toughest eighteen holes lie not along the foggy shores of Pebble Beach or on the wind-whipped undulations of St. Andrews but rather in the tangled sub-Saharan bush of Chililabombwe, Zambia, home of the Konkola Golf Club. Chililabombwe, a tiny border town within earshot of the warfare in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is known for its idyllic subtropical climate and for the Konkola Copper Mine, one of the richest on the continent. But the town's golf course--originally called Bancroft Golf Club by its colonial founders and renamed after Zambia won independence in 1964--is clearly the pride of the region.
You really know you're not at Augusta when the scorecard says "A ball coming to rest in a hippo footprint may be lifted and dropped in the nearest possible position to provide maximum relief." Seven-thousand-pound hippos don't tiptoe; ostriches could nest in the divots they leave. Hippos track across the grounds because the Konkola is near the Kafue River.
Chris Mwaba, the club secretary, sometimes must caution visiting players to watch out for poisonous snakes. Every now and then a duffer bushwhacking through the thigh-high kasensi grass will be confronted by boomslangs, black and green mambas, puff adders, gaboon vipers or the highly venomous spitting cobra. But perhaps Konkola's greatest challenge is the series of ponds along which ten of its holes are situated. Many a tee shot has gone into the drink, but that's not the biggest problem.
In bold, black letters the scorecard warns "NOTE: BEWARE OF CROCODILES ON 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 17 AND 18." To date, almost a half-dozen caddies have been munched while on ball-retrieval expeditions. "Wandering near the water is not the wisest move for a caddie at Konkola," says a club member. "They become easy meat."
The thirty or so courses that speckle the Zambian countryside are among the most exotic in the known world. In Livingstone, golfers risk having their balls swiped by baboons; in Chingola, by vervet monkeys. At the old Kasaba Bay Lodge course, golfers shared the fairways with Cape buffalo, hartebeests, wart hogs, hippopotami, elephants and puku, henna-red antelopes seen mainly in crossword puzzles. Herds of impalas, duikers and black lechwes roam the nine-hole course at the state house in Lusaka. In Ndola, the main obstructions are immense termite mounds. Seventy-two rise from the sandy soil; the sixth hole alone has fourteen. "Zambians call termite towers ant hills," says club president John Nkandu. "The hills can grow as high as several stories."
Ndola, Zambia's second-largest city, is where we begin our Konkola chronicle. The town's civic credo, "The Friendly City," is stenciled on an airport wall. Friendly Ndola is. Uneventful it is not. Headlines in one day's newspaper included the following: WIFE EXPOSES BLOOD-SUCKING HUSBAND, SELF-CONFESSED WIZARD GOES IN FOR 2 YEARS and MAGISTRATE SUES OVER COCKROACH IN SOUP.
The counsel offered in the local press can be equally uncommon. An editorial in the Sunday Mail proposed a novel solution to the Monica Lewinsky scandal: CLINTON SHOULD CONSIDER POLYGAMY.