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Konkola Golf Club

At Ndola's airport, I consider the Toyotas for rent at Polite Car Hire, politely hire one and cruise the friendly city. In Zambia, traffic lights are called robots, a quaint Britishism that could also describe the cops who mechanically direct traffic. A three-robot town rarely visited by tourists, Ndola is home to the Rhino Lager factory, the Copperbelt Museum and a colossal Mupapa tree under which Swahili slave traders once sold their captives. The road from Ndola leads through Kitwe ("The Hub of the Copper Belt"), a two-robot hamlet that is home to the Kooky Look Restaurant, the Lady Blue Hair Salon & Grocery and the Three Dice Shell Hole Moth Club, one of the best of its kind. Next stop is Chingola ("The Cleanest Town in Zambia"), home to the Proton Supermarket and some lofty speed bumps.

Mile upon mile of stripped, moon-cratered landscape culminates in Chililabombwe, "The Future of Copper Mining in Zambia." This no-robot hamlet is home to Aunt Millie's Butchery and the Humanism Butchery Mine Market. A red, shadeless road that seems to stretch forever dumps into the gated entrance of the Konkola Golf Club, a neglected outpost of postcolonial decadence. "The fortunes of Zambia's copper industry continue to decline," according to Trish Houston, an unemployed schoolteacher who emigrated from New Zealand in 1978. "It's become harder and harder to keep the club running."

The mine's main shaft was opened in 1957, the same year Konkola was founded. Back then, caddies were black; members, white. "I don't think the club had a no-blacks policy," says Houston, who joined the club in 1980. "It may have had more to do with the fact that the blacks who lived in the area couldn't afford to play. I wouldn't say they were discouraged to play." But she concedes they weren't exactly encouraged to play either. In fact, no blacks joined the club until several years after independence, in the late 1960s. Only five of the club's current eighty-seven members are white, and only one--Houston--plays regularly.

In the prosperous mid-eighties, Konkola hosted a tournament on the PGA's safari circuit. Visiting pros included Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam. Houston remembers Ewen Murray whacking two dozen Titleists into the pond off the eighteenth tee. "He was trying to hit a croc, and I was pleading, 'Please don't do it!'" she says. "My concern wasn't for the crocs. We just can't get Titleists here."

The club's pro shop has been closed since 1966. To buy a pack of reasonably new Top-Flites, you must drive all the way back to Chingola. Sets of three sell for ten thousand kwacha (roughly five dollars), which also happens to be the monthly dues at Konkola. In case you're planning to visit, the green fee will set you back a hefty fifty cents. At the nineteenth hole, the bar food of choice--caterpillar grubs--are free. Club member Charles Sihole likes them fried. His golfing buddy Mike Musopelo prefers his boiled. "They absorb salt better," he explains. "Boiled is much better than raw." His caddie, Solomon Pliri, says grubs taste best floating in a glass of beer. (I find beer-soaked grubs only slightly less palatable than soup-soaked cockroaches.)

Beer is said to be the major obsession of Zambians. In his African travelogue North of South, Shiva Naipaul wrote that Zambians are purported to be second only to Australians in beer consumption. (He also reports the not unrelated rumor that Zambia boasts the world's highest road-accident rate.) A substantial store of the beverage is stashed in the clubhouse kitchen. Beer burglars broke in every Christmas Eve--until the early 1990s, when a cop shot a thief as he climbed through a window. Did the thief die?

"No," says Musopelo. "But his leg was amputated."


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