*(Warning – this one is for golfers)*
“Are there any golf courses in Bosnia?” I’d asked a few people and been met with shrugs and blank stares. Now it’s Hamza the waiter’s turn
He’s adamant. “No, no. We have none.” He finishes with a laugh that strongly implies stupid question.
In a half-hearted last attempt I turn to the web and open the World Golf Foundation site. Surprise, surprise, there’s not one but two courses listed in the country. Each has only nine holes (for the uninitiated, 18 is the norm) but golf in Bosnia exists.
One course is at Posusje, near the Croatian border, the other is here on the outskirts of the capital.
According to the website the country has just 123 players, 30 of them women. Playing in this outpost of world golf can’t be easy so I head into the hills for the VF Golf Club, Sarajevo, to take a peek.
With so few members I’d mentally pictured a shack for a clubhouse and maybe not even that. What I actually find is a building designed by one of Bosnia’s top architects. And it shows. Completed in 2005 it’s made out of natural stone and wood. The place is spacious and very plush. Tonight there’s even a band warming up to entertain the members.
I ask the barman if the club has a golf professional. Next shock, yes there is, and he’s giving a lesson. I go and look for him and can’t believe what I find. There’s a top quality, all-weather, covered range and it’s floodlit. Members turn up whenever they want, flick a switch and hit until their patience or golf glove wears out.
There’s also a chipping green, putting green and practice bunkers. All in tip top condition. These are some of the very best facilities I’ve ever seen at a nine hole course……except there’s a snag.
“We don’t have nine holes,” the pro Dejan Saran tells me when I meet him.
“Really. The website says you do.”
“It’s wrong. We only have six.”
“Six holes. That’s it?” I ask.
“Doesn’t that get a little….boring?”
“No. We’re happy. Until a couple of years ago we only had four.”
We’re in unchartered waters. I’ve never heard of a club with six holes before let alone one with only four.
We’re joined by Vedran Kosic. He explains the club’s unusual background. The course was the brainchild of his father-in-law Jasmin Selmanagic, a golf fanatic who had to travel abroad to have a game.
Fortunately he’s a wealthy man so in 2001 he funded and built one himself. He also played a major part in the design.
He’d love to extend the current number of holes but the adjoining land is owned by the government, even if they’d sell it would be hugely expensive.
Next I learn the tiny club has a pro shop. It currently has two sets of clubs for sale, one for men the other for ladies. For custom fitting you need to drive north a few hundred kilometres, show your passport at the border and find a golf shop in Croatia.
Finally the star surprise, the course itself. I admit that I thought a six holer would be a litte, well, you know, Mickey Mouse. Turns out it’s got quite a roar.
From the first tee are magnificent views over Sarajevo. However, golfers will have their minds on the opening shot, it’s seriously intimidating. The hole is a precision par three with angled green, water right, a steep bank left and bunkers short and long.
And so it continues. There are blind shots, drives with long carries over water, lots of sand, endless slopes.
Unsurprisingly the average handicap is quite high. I ask Vedran where my 12 handicap would rank me in the country. Definitely top 20, he tells me. Top ten is not out of the question. I blush at my own Bosnian brilliance and instantly decide to move here.
My star rating looks even better when Vedran tells me the website is out of date. He believes Bosnia now has well over 200 players, still hardly enough to cause a queue on the first tee.
Visitors are rare. Each week they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Members have peace and quiet to enjoy their competitions. All are played over 18 holes, which means three laps of the course. Do they ever get bored? Absolutely not. If anything they relish the mental challenge of competing against a hole which may already have bruised them once or even twice before in the round.
The missing holes are an oddity but this is a proper golf club in every other sense. Beautifully equipped, in top quality condition and with good greens. This place punches well above its weight. It might also happen to be the smallest golf club in the world.