The world is divided into two kinds of people. First there are the fellow-golfers – it doesn’t matter who you are, if you play golf we’ll gladly offer you a hand, a place to stay and several half-baked swing tips. Then there are the other people. We don’t preach to them or tell them about our amazing sand save last weekend. We certainly don’t try to convert them, for tee times are scarce enough. Mostly we pity them for they know not.
Golfers tend to think that an enlightened person is someone who plays golf, and an enlightened country is one that affords its citizens plenty of opportunities to do so. Of course, such a country needs many other attributes to be able to meet such a lofty goal – details like a stable government, a robust economy and an affluent, healthy, unpersecuted population. And plenty of grass, too, preferably on lightly undulating sandy soil that drains well after an unexpected downpour. Though it might be too much for even a golfer to claim that golf and civilisation are synonymous, the existence of the former might at least provide some evidence of the latter.
This is the third edition of Planet Golf, Golf Digest’s biennial rankings of courses in 100 different countries, compiled with the help of our network of 30 international editions and affiliate magazines, plus many other friends in golf around the world. With a bit of advance notice, almost all of the courses in our rankings – private clubs included – will be happy to let you play in exchange for a few yuan, rand or rupee.
We can only remove our left-hand glove and applaud New Zealand, which not only has the best new entrant to our Planet Golf listings in the shape of Kauri Cliffs, but also offers its citizens one course for every 9,137 people, a better ratio than any other nation with a population of more than a million. (For the record the rest of the Top 10 is Australia, Canada, the United States, Sweden, the UK, Norway, Denmark and Finland, with Japan 11th. We are the fortunate ones.)
There is much work to be done, however. Afghanistan’s sole course, Qargha Lake Golf Club outside Kabul, is currently a minefield strewn with shell craters and abandoned artillery. And there are roughly 50 nations that still have no golf courses whatsoever. Some, such as Tuvalu and Liechtenstein, suffer tremendous geographic hardships. Others face hardships of altogether different kinds, most notably Ukraine (with a population of 48 million), Sudan (38 million), Algeria (33 million) and Iraq (25 million).
When all countries embrace golf, might there be hope for peace on earth?