Many businessmen or women who travel frequently are concerned with a single item: can they sneak in a round of golf? This week, I finally played a resort golf course at Le Meridien Hotel. To be fair, Dakar hasn't seen rain in four months so I was expecting the course to be in terrible shape. That didn't matter; I was looking for was "The Experience." And a new blog entry. But, what an experience it was!
I arrived with a student who had never played golf, but has shown a keen interest by wearing argyle sweaters and knickers to school. This particular student is also fairly well off financially so I wasn't worried about him spending all of his allowance in one place. Golf can be a ridiculously expensive little hobby...
Prior to our arrival, I thought ahead and said, "We should go to the sporting goods store less than one mile away and buy golf balls and tees." The sporting goods store less than one mile away did not sell any golf accoutrements. This should be your first indication as to golf's popularity rating amongst the locals, but at least I felt better about paying "pro shop" prices knowing I had made some effort at advance planning.
Upon arrival, I learned that greens fees were 15,000 CFA (about $30) and renting a set of golf clubs was 10,000 CFA (about $20). These fares were inclusive for the entire day, so I could play 9 holes or 27 holes for the same price. This is comparable to prices at very mediocre U.S. 9-hole golf courses, so I paid with nary a second thought. The course superintendent asked if I needed balls and tees. I learned that 10 balls would cost 3,000 CFA (about $6, not too awful) and then I began to wonder about the balls. There's no such thing as a 10-pack of new balls and - indeed - I was not surprised to receive a black plastic bag with 10 used balls. "Gently used" would be a vast understatement: these balls couldn't have made it more than 20 yards on the driving range. I even think the word "Range" was removed with paint thinner to give the balls an extra sheen.
Then, I was presented with a nice bag of new golf tees. For $6. Yes, $6 for 40 pieces of carved wood. To put that in perspective, I can buy a hand-carved set of "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil" monkeys for $6 in Africa. I could probably hit the monkeys farther than the golf balls, but the point here is not to complain about price (like all golfers do); I was here for the experience of West African golf. And a new blog entry.
Then came the big surprise: for some reason, we happened to mention the student had never played golf before. The course superintendent shook his head and apologized profusely, but said the student could not go out on the course by himself if he was a true "golf virgin." The student would have to hire the club professional and pay for a lesson. In fact, he could hire the club professional and take the lesson directly on the course so that we could enjoy the day together, but he could not go out without hiring the club pro.
I shuddered to think what this was going to cost. Then, the superintendent said the club pro would cost 10,000 CFA, but that would include the lessons, clubs and one hour on the course. I scratched my head for a moment. Didn't I just pay 25,000 CFA without golf lessons to hack my way through the very same course? Such is pricing in West Africa.
We were greeted by the club professional and I was pleased to see my greens fees also included my very own personal caddy. I have never had a personal caddy before and looked forward to having such a knowledgable advocate on my side.
The club pro was as knowledgable as your average high school golf team dropout. No matter what happened, he would go into some theatrics as if to mime, "You lifted your head." My student could have run up to the ball like Happy Gilmore attempting to whack Bob Barker, but he still would have received the same advice of "You lifted your head." Then again, he was playing golf for 60% less than I was so he couldn't complain about the lack of precision from his newfound mentor.
But my caddy was a different story. This was a man who knew the inner workings of the course. Its design, its nuances, its intricacies. And it didn't matter how far away I was from the hole, he would look at the bag and say, "6 Iron?" I finally figured out the 6 iron was the only club that wasn't warped, bent or ripped to shreds and I played most of the day with the trusty 6 iron. My set of rental clubs also came conveniently loaded with a left handed putter. I'm right handed, but you'll see in a moment that really doesn't matter...
I'm the worst golfer in the world and THAT is the best part about playing golf in Dakar. No one can possibly get angry about their score because the greens aren't much more than sand with grass sprouts. After four holes, I was laughing so much at the greens that I felt I couldn't do much worse than putting left-handed. I asked my caddy for the club and proceeded to sink a 20-footer from the fringe.
The beauty of golf in Dakar is that it's a microcosm for the rest of Dakar. Hakuna Matada; no worries. We didn't even have a scorecard. The club pro was insistent that I take a mulligan after every bad shot. "Favorable lie" was the rule, not the exception. Oh - and the course markers are listed in meters, not yards - which I discovered halfway through the course when I couldn't seem to reach the green with my trusty 6 iron...
To top it off, this is an oceanfront course with views reminscent of playing golf in Hawaii. There was even a cliffside hole where I had to hit over an ocean cove to get to the green. I missed, but my ball hit a rock and bounced what appeared to be about 100 feet in the air - nearly landing back on the fairway.
So, if you're coming to play golf in Dakar do yourself a favor and leave the Visa card at home because I don't think they accept it here. Bring a sleeve of balls, your own bag of tees and forget about your handicap. It's going to be a great day.