Hole #9: At the Turn

Most golf courses have the 9th hole returning to the clubhouse, and after finishing the front nine it's usually time for a hot dog and a beer, (or hot dog and a Coke if it's serious golf) and an assessment of your play at the halfway mark. For me, it'll be mutton fat with starchy noodles and a bowl of salty milky tea. Yes, one serving will be enough, thank you.

It figures that a golf course the size of Mongolia would have an appropriately sized sand trap, and that's how hole #9 started. The Mongol Els sand dunes near Rashaant stretch for over 5 km from east to west and 50 km from north to south. It was definitely a nice change from the tall weeds of the valleys and I actually enjoyed playing the dunes, some of which had vegetation on them due to the heavy rains. It took half a day to cross them but unfortunately they were over and gone faster than you can say "Ernie Els can't play the Mongol Els."

A glimpse into Mongolian health care: I thought the Red Cross flag on the antenna was interesting so I went over for a closer look. Sogoo and I were helping a man fix his motorcycle when the Isuzu Trooper pulled off the road just 20m from where we were, and a man put the flag on the antenna. Two men and two women got out of the vehicle and when they also took out a 10-liter jug of airag, Sogoo suggested that we pay them a visit.

One of the men was a doctor who worked for the Red Cross. After we had all finished a bowl of airag, another jeep pulled up alongside us, and out came a boy who had had his arm broken by a horse. The side of the road where I just happened to be standing, in the middle of nowhere, was now a makeshift hospital. I have to give the boy credit for holding back his cries as the doctor prodded and pulled his arm, trying to get the bone back in place. A plaster cast would be the next course of business in the western world but here in Mongolia medical supplies are scarce. The sequence of events that occurred next, I'll never forget.

They wrapped gauze fabric around the boy's arm and inside they placed a couple pieces of wood they found nearby on the ground. Then, inside the gauze, they put the cardboard filler from the inside of a roll of tape, and I'm not kidding, three playing cards. I think the ace of spades might have been in there but don't quote me on that. Things were so sketchy looking that I actually thought about going over and doing something myself before I learned that the man was a doctor.

Now, I've been inside Mongolia's biggest hospital before when my friend Alain had a dislocated finger, and I can honestly say that maybe the roadside doctor gave better treatment. Picture a really bad Russian hospital, and then imagine the hospital has no money to operate. You don't want to get seriously injured in Mongolia.

But at the roadside, I wondered how the doctor would get paid for making this house call (road call?). This is Mongolia, so I guess I wasn't too surprised when the boy's father brought over the equivalent of US$4, a bottle of mineral water, and yes, a bottle of vodka.

My own physical health has been fine. It's only my emotional health I worry about now due to the ever-increasing difficulty in finding my golf balls after every shot. It's still raining every day and the weeds are getting taller and taller. After my Hole #8 report, you can further understand that this is starting to pose a serious problem for the expedition.

I've considered changing the expedition course to head south into the Gobi and then loop back to Ulaan Baatar. It's not my favorite option but would at least be a way for me to finish the expedition this year. After nine holes and almost 1000 km of golfing, I've got a lot to think about. For now though, I'm going to attempt a further push to the west to find out for sure if the conditions are impossible for golf or not. I just wish there was that hot dog and beer waiting for me in the clubhouse.

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