KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Unlike the real thing, there was no threat of rain Sunday – or even much hope of respite from the searing desert heat as golfers braved the fairway at the Kandahar Canadian Open.
Most golfers waited until the relentless sun of southern Afghanistan began to set before venturing onto the greens at the NATO base in Kandahar to tackle a mini-replica of the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont., where the soggy real Canadian Open was being staged.
Aside from the weapons slung across shoulders and the military uniforms, the weather also set the Kandahar tournament apart.
“We just have 50-degree heat to deal with,” said Bill Pigden of Winnipeg, a retired major who is now a civilian manager at the Canadian Forces’ Personnel Support Agency at the base, where morale is one of his duties.
It took Pigden, tournament co-chairman Gilles Langlois of Kingston, Ont., and a host of volunteers three days to lay out KAF Abbey, which stands for Kandahar Air Field.
The Royal Canadian Golf Association provided technical information about the Glen Abbey course, which they laid out in miniature. The 18-hole course was set out in a small field in the middle of “the boardwalk,” the centre of recreational life on the sprawling base, and it was complete with artificial turf greens.
“We’ve reconstructed it down to the correct scale . . . with the exception of water and trees. Not a lot of those,” said Pigden.
Langlois, a project manager for SNC Lavalin PAE which has private contracts on the base, said it was not an easy job.
“We have four truckloads of sand that we had to spread around under these carpets,” he said, pointing to the artificial turf. “We used something like 600 square metres of carpeting. There was a lot of cutting to shape it; a whole lot of teamwork to bring it together.”
The (turf) was nailed down and sand built up in place of water hazards and change of terrain. Peanut cans sunk into the hard sand served for holes.
“For every nail we got into the dirt, we bent about five. It is like concrete underneath,” Pigden added. “We had to use a hilty gun, basically a little jackhammer, to jackhammer the ground underneath so we could set the can inside.
Proceeds from the tournament – it cost $20 to be part of the tournament or $5 for drop-in play – raised $1,500 for Soldier On, which helps wounded soldiers get involved in Paralympic sport as a means of recovery and rehabilitation.
Over the three days of the tournament, the mini-fairway was a ghost town as temperatures peaked in the afternoon, getting busier at night, when floodlights lit up the gymnasium-sized course.
“I think it’s just a wonderful replica, a great idea,” said Lt.-Col. Kevin Bryski, chief of staff with the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command South, and an avid golfer.
Bryski volunteered at the 1998 Bell Canadian Open as a gallery marshall, and has played the course..
“Working here in Afghanistan is quite a long toil. We have a lot of work to do here . . .,” he said. “Having opportunities like this to vent a little bit and get out and have some fun on the golf course with your comrades . . . it’s just a wonderful opportunity.”
Pigden himself came out on top of the 36 golfers who ended up in the Sunday championship. He won a trophy and a Tim Hortons ball cap.
Col. Roch Lacroix, deputy commander of the Canadian Forces’ in Afghanistan, presented the tournament trophy, and issued a challenge to Canadian golfer Mike Weir and others who spent the weekend at the actual Canadian Open: To match the donation to Soldier On.