Bush-golf justice is brutal and absolute. The course is as formidable as its ponds are forbidding. Par is seventy-three, a stroke more than the course record. The layout is 7,408 yards. Until recently, the 620-yard fourth hole was said to be the longest in the Southern Hemisphere. (It was eclipsed by the 641-yard second hole at the Gary Player Country Club, in Sun City, South Africa.)
Framing the fairways is a freckled forest of tamarind, mukwa and vase-shape mopani alive with fork-tailed drongos, crimson-breasted bush shrike and carmine bee-eaters, their red and turquoise feathers brilliant in the sun. During the long African summer, sharp-eyed golfers often sight the diedrik cuckoo, a robin-size bird with a deep-emerald-colored back and a black bill. "Dee-dee-dee-deederick!" screams the male with brain-shredding force. "Deea-deaa-deea!" answers the female over the shushing of golfers on the green.
Hippo footprints are most o ften found on holes six and seven. Though the club has no record of a golfer being mashed underfoot, Sihole recommends staying out of their paths. Hippos are supposed to account for more deaths in Africa than any other creature (except mosquitoes). Only one golfer has been killed by a hippo at Konkola, and he was in a car. His Toyota blindsided a female emerging from the bush. Both died on impact.
Among the mourners was the hippo's mate, a reticent night crawler nicknamed Elliott. By day, Elliott hides beneath the Nile cabbage that chokes the pond off hole eight. Normally the only things you can see moving in the lush vegetation are kingfishers and squacco herons. But sometimes Elliott peeks above the cabbage to ponder the play of a passing foursome. "We're proud of Elliott," says Trish Houston. "He's not a golfer, but he seems to take an interest in the game."
Beneath a waning sun and matted clouds, Sihole, Musopelo and I engage in some fairway patter. Sihole says the most hazardous course he ever played was near Umtali (now called Mutare), in neighboring Zimbabwe. During the 1970s, when that country was at war, the rules at the Hillside Golf Club allowed a free drop if a golfer's ball landed in a crater left by mortar fire.
"Paradise!" grumbles Musopelo, citing another Zimbabwean course, in Centenary, where players were permitted to repeat a shot if their swing was interrupted by gunfire or explosions, and they were advised to check for land mines before putting.