To Beirut golf course (le "Royal Beirut" as it's known to locals wags) for a leisurely round. I haven't played here since I was about 12 years old. This is where I swung my very first golf club. There was an Egyptian pro who gave me lessons.
In those days, being left-handed was the equivalent of having "666" tattooed on your forehead. It meant that you were in league with "Chaitan" (Satan) and there were no left-handed clubs available. This is why I still play right-handed: it gives me a fabulous excuse for my awful game – "you should see me when I play left-handed".
We tee off at the first hole. It's difficult to concentrate as there are two muezzins competing with each other from neighbouring minarets. "Le Royal Beirut" is right on the edge of the Hezbollah-controlled southern Shia suburbs of Beirut, and their warrens of tight alleys, closely packed concrete homes and rickety balconies overlook the course. If this were in Caracas, Hugo Chavez would have confiscated the place ages ago.
I play a decent first hole but we are held up on the second as a gentleman decides to take a short cut across the course on a motorbike. He weaves his way unsteadily across the fairway laden down with bulbous bags of shopping. Once he disappears I manage to hit a pretty decent drive that takes me to the bottom of a hill. I cannot see the green but am advised to aim for the large Hezbollah hospital building that looms over the end of the hole – "for God's sake don't hit it though".
The third hole is pleasant enough although I hit an unexpectedly good shot and nearly knock a smart Lebanese golfer unconscious. In the old days this could have turned into something more serious but he is perfectly cordial and insists that we play through. The fourth hole has a viciously strong smell of sewage about it but we are unable to track down the source.
The fifth hole is the one I have been warned about. The last time my companion played here, a man emerged on to his balcony right above the green and started randomly firing a machine-gun. It doesn't help the nervous putter. Fortunately there is no sign of the gunman this time but we are noticeably quicker around the green.
The sixth hole is tricky, as you have to negotiate the tall metal landing beacons that used to guide planes into Beirut International Airport. Happily for us, the flight path has now changed so they no longer swoop over the course so low that you can touch them with a three-wood. I hit a good drive on the seventh that lands me near a newish-looking water hazard full of ducks. I wonder whether this is what the gunman was going for?
At the hole we are faced with a hazard that even Tiger Woods would find tricky – a live electricity cable is suspended over the edge of the green at head height. One brush with a wayward club and we are Lebanese toast.
On to the eighth, a short par three that has what appears to be either the world's largest bunker or a building site running along the entire left-hand side. The appearance of a loud digger during my swing solves the conundrum. It's now 35C in the shade and we are starting to struggle in the heat, never mind the local diversions. We wait for two more motorbikes to travel down the ninth before holing up and calling it a day.
We hit the clubhouse, deserted save for an Irish UN soldier deep in conversation with a shifty-looking US civilian. We order two ice-cold Almaza beers and set the world to rights over chicken schnitzels. I think it's time for a Beirut Open to be added to the PGA Tour.Reuse content