Playing Golf in Botswana

One of the best things about our recent “shadowing” trip was getting to visit with Chuck and Mary McGee. I had changed my status on my Facebook page to say that I was headed to Selebi-Phikewi for shadowing, and a PCV in Botswana who must have known by the location that we were headed for a stay with Chuck and Mary commented, “A visit to the McGee Bed and Breakfast is coveted by all.”

Chuck and Mary are about the same age.  Most Peace Corps volunteers are in their twenties, but there are a few of us over 50.  I love our young fellow trainees, but we had more in common with Chuck and Mary, who had grown children and a ton of life experience.

The McGee’s had been Peace Corps volunteers for one year.  They had been where we were just 12 months before and knew what it is like to be in Pre-Service training.  They rightly assumed that we were missing our family, taking bucket baths, washing our own clothes by hand, missing American foods, and longing for easy access to a fast internet connection.

That first night they cooked the first of many wonderful dinners.  During our visit we were served foods I had not tasted in a month and really missed.  Every meal was great, but for me the highlights were the good old fashioned hamburger with cheese on it, the ice cream for desert (every night), and the evening they served an appetizer of brie cheese and crackers and almonds.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

The McGee’s bed and breakfast also had a nice assortment of wine and beer selections.  My favorite was Windhoek beer, which I assume was brewed in Namibia (Windhoek is a city in Namibia).

We had mentioned in earlier posts about having to take “bucket baths”.  Not at the McGee’s, they have running hot water and a bathtub.  During our visit we had the pleasure of taking baths with full tubs of warm water and loved it.

Selebi-Phikewi is a mining town and for many years mining executives from BCL lived here.  They had a club built complete with golf course and tennis courts.  The facilities are old and definitely show their age, but still I did not expect to be asked if I wanted to play golf and tennis while in the Peace Corps.

Golf in Botswana is very different.  The rules are the same, and the clubs look familiar, but everything else is different — hazards for example.  In addition to sand traps there is the occasional herd of donkeys on the fairways.  There were two holes on which donkeys loitered on the fairway eating the small amount of grass that could be found.  Just as any other hazard, one has to decide if you want to hit over the donkey or go around it.  On one hole I had a fairly decent drive.  Then on my second shot I lined up to hit my 3-wood.  There was a donkey about 20 yards ahead, directly between me and the green.  Fortunately for the donkey, I hit the ball cleanly and the ball soared over the donkey-hazard.

The fairways are not good, and that is an understatement.  You will never have a good “lie” on Botswana faireways.  I ended up teeing up the ball on the fairways.  Often, people take a small square of carpet with them which they use to hit from on the fairways.  The fairways feel like “rough”, you can imagine what the “rough” is like.  Chuck had casually mentioned that if I have to look for a ball in the rough, I should take a couple of clubs with me in case I see a snake.  I asked the caddy if we had to worry about snakes, and he indicated that snakes weren’t a problem on the front nine, the back nine was where you had to worry about them.  I did not see a snake that day.

The “tees” and “greens” are not green, they are brown.  In rain-deprived Botswana, there is no way they could have a golf course green using the lush and dense short grass as you would find them in America.  Their solution is to create a surface with the same ball-rolling characteristics as grass, which is not grass.  In Botswana the surface of the “greens” are made of something that resembles sand with oil mixed in it.  The surface is usually marred by the footprints of anything that has been there, including cows and donkeys.  Near the “green” is a tool that resembles the kind of roller you find on a tennis court for rolling excess water off the court’s surface.  After hitting onto the “green” the caddy will pick up this “roller” and will roll a smooth path for you between your ball and the hole.  You putt on this surface.

I mentioned that we had a caddy.  I have never used a caddy before, and it was a treat to have someone carry my clubs.  The cost for a caddy is P35 (equivalent to about $6).  The cost to play was only P20.

The tennis courts were in better shape than the golf courts.  Tish is an avid tennis player, but I had not played tennis in at least 10 years.  Everything looked the same to me except that there were some extra lines drawn on the courts, because the courts doubled as a net-ball court.  Net ball is similar to basketball in that there is a similar ball and hoop, but completely different in that there is no dribbling and no backboard.  I had never heard of net ball before coming here.  So, disregarding the additional net ball lines everything was the same.  What was not the same was me.  I am in pretty good shape for my age, but after we warmed up but before the first game was over I had an injury.  I was running for a ball and felt a pain in my left leg.  I had either strained or pulled or torn my left calf muscle and had to withdraw.  As I write this, I have a wrap on my calf; I am taking Ibuprofen three times a day and limping a bit.  I took the sidelines and took a few pictures while Tish, Mary and Chuck continued to hit the ball.  (Note… as I post this, I am recovered and no longer limp)

In the evenings we would sit on the front porch if the mosquitoes until the mosquitoes started to bite, then move inside.  We played cards one evening.  Chuck and I played a few games of chess.  Mostly we had great conversation, about our lives, our kids, the Peace Corps and everything else.

A stay at the McGee bed-and-breakfast gets a five-star rating from us.  We look forward to being able to return the favor and be hosts for them at our permanent site.

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