For most of the last decade, the world's toughest 18 holes have lain not along the foggy shores of Pebble Beach or on the wind-whipped undulations of St. Andrews, but rather in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Southern Rhodesia. During the civil war that ended in 1980, the rule book at the Hillside Golf Club in Umtali—a course once shelled by black nationalist guerrillas from across the border in Mozambique—allowed a player a free drop if his ball landed in a crater caused by mortar fire. On another course, in Centenary, players were permitted to repeat a shot if their swing had been interrupted by gunfire or explosions, and they were admonished to check for land mines before putting. The possibility of snipers lurking in the bush at the 1976 Victoria Falls Classic gave new meaning to the term "bunker."
But now that things have calmed down in Zimbabwe, the distinction of being the world's most hazardous course may belong to the Konkola Golf Club in Chililabombwe, Zambia, Zimbabwe's neighbor to the north. Chililabombwe, a small copper-mining town in the country's north, is known for its idyllic subtropical climate, and the Konkola Mine, one of the richest in the world. But it's the course, originally called Bancroft Golf Club and renamed after Zambia won independence in 1964, that's clearly the pride of the old colonialists of the region. You really know you're not at Augusta when you see the following on the scorecard: "A ball coming to rest in a hippo footprint may be lifted and dropped in the nearest possible position to provide maximum relief." Seven-thousand-pound hippos don't tiptoe; ostriches could nest in the divots they leave.
Hippos track across the course because the Konkola Golf Club is near a wildlife preserve. C.J. MacKay, the club secretary, sometimes must caution visiting players to watch out for poisonous snakes. Not long ago one of his golfing buddies was nipped by a cobra on the back nine. But perhaps Konkola's greatest challenge is the large lake along which holes 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are situated. Many a tee shot has gone into the drink, but that's not the biggest problem. Crocodiles are. In bold, black letters the scorecard warns, NOTE: BEWARE OF CROCODILES ON 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18. "The caddies, who are generally schoolchildren, search for the lost balls," says MacKay. To date, four caddies have been bitten while on ball retrieval expeditions.
Occasionally, even a player is confronted by a croc. A few years back, one hacker was attacked on the 6th fairway. He was rescued, says MacKay, by his partner, who "dispatched the reptile with a blow to the head."
A nine-iron, legend has it.