Editor’s note: Our columnist has been spending this year in Cameroon, West Africa.
I had a good day on Good Friday, last month: I played golf.
I hope to play one more time before I come home to Vermont in late June.
There are four golf courses in all of Cameroon, this in a country of 22.5 million people, covering 183,000 square miles, in an area slightly larger than California.
Just four courses, despite the fact that Cameroon has the ideal climate for golf, warm year-round, but never brutally hot in the summer like Florida, which has 1,200 golf courses, or Arizona with its 322 golf courses.
It’s safe to say, then, that golf is not a central passion of Cameroonians.
You can argue if you like that the sport is not the exclusive domain of the wealthy, but clearly there’s a relationship, and Cameroon is a poor country.
I played at the Golf Club de Yaounde, located on the outskirts of town, adjacent to the American Embassy on the eastern slope of Mt. Febe, on the road to Bamenda. To describe the golf course as “hilly” is like saying that Bill Gates is “well-off” or Beyonce is “attractive.”
My playing companions were Kelly and Bill Owens, American expats, who met in the Peace Corps here in Cameroon and have taught for the last five years at the American School of Yaounde (ASOY), where I have landed this year.
Kelly is a good golfer, having played on her college team at the University of Dayton.
Bill is a congenial playing companion and plays fast, an important consideration.
Le Club de Yaounde does not rent motorized golf carts and requires every player to hire a caddy. That’s fine with me. I believe that golf is a game for walkers. I was a caddy myself for many summers growing up in Maine.
But those hills! I couldn’t possibly walk a full 18 holes: I was exhausted after nine. Kelly and Bill, younger and fitter, continued on.
The cost of living in Cameroon is many times less expensive, generally, than in the U.S. Not so much with golf. The greens fees at the Golf Club de Yaounde were 20,000 CFA, about $40, and the caddy was another 5,000 ($10), bargains in the States, I realize, but many times more than most Cameroonians can afford. I think the sense is that anyone who plays golf can afford these fees.
The course itself is quite beautiful, green and lush, built as it is in the rain forest. A challenging 6,300 yards, its configuration, and slope, provide a stern test. The rough is not long, but very tangly. You’ve got to really muscle the club through the thick grass.
The one deficiency keeping it from being truly high level is the condition of the greens. The greens are like your back yard, mown low. I’m not sure the reason, but it’s likely about cost, the high cost of maintaining a championship caliber course.
On the second or third hole of my round, I took note of a young Cameroonian boy, maybe 12-14, who was casually following our play, usually about 100 or so yards away from us. When Bill hit an errant shot into some deep rough, this boy went over and stood by his ball.
I realized then that this boy was forecaddying for us, informally, locating the balls we hit into trouble, hoping that we might reward him modestly for this service, which I was happy to do. He was pleased indeed with the 500 CFA note ($1) I gave him after my nine.
My caddy was named Apollinaire. He knew a little English, and I know a little French, so we talked as we walked, between shots. I asked if he “jouez le golf?” and he said, “Oui, bien sûr.”
“Qu’est-ce que votre handicap (ahn-dee-kep)?” I asked.
“Trois! Vous êtes un ‘pro’!”
He shrugged. He looked the part, a man in his 20s or 30s, tall and lean. If Appolinaire truly played to a three handicap, he was a lot better player than I had ever been, even when I was young and could play.
In my days as a caddy, I knew the ambivalent feelings resulting from being a better golfer than the player whose bag you’re toting. So I deferred to Apollinaire always on club selection. After all, he knew the course and I didn’t, so when we approached my ball, he handed me a club and I hit with whatever he chose.
A couple of times, he “under-clubbed” me, and a well-struck shot nonetheless came up short of its destination. This is something of an old caddy trick, which I recognized, designed to ingratiate.
If I thought the distance on my second shot, for example, warranted a six or seven iron, he would perhaps hand me an eight, playing to my ego, saying in effect: “Here you go, Mister Big Hitter.”
The expression is “Drive for show and putt for dough,” but that’s true only to a point. It doesn’t apply if you’re not playing a match. For me, I’ll take the feeling that goes along with hitting a good drive over that that for sinking a 10-20-foot putt, perhaps for a score of seven or eight on a hole.
On this Good Friday, I hit some nice drives. My score, for nine, was well under my age. After hiking these hills and dales for a couple hours, I had “une bière glacée” on the deck of the clubhouse as a reward for my exertions . . . and was a happy man.
A bientôt, mes amis!
BETTER GET SOME elevation on that tee shot, Bill. The course at Le Golf Club de Yaounde on the slope of Mt. Febe is quite hilly.