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"Golf is very much a luxury in Zim," says Roger Baylis, head professional at Chapman GC in Harare and national coach for the Zimbabwe Golf Association. "With the exorbitant cost of living, disposable income for golf only comes after everything else has been paid for. There must have been close to 100 golf courses in Zimbabwe in the 1990s -- not all 18-holers of course -- but I estimate that we have lost about 60 clubs. Golf has suffered most in the rural areas."
Evidence of this lies in ruin 30 miles south of Zimbabwe's capital at Harare South GC. Once regarded as a top-five course in the country, the layout is now overgrown and unrecognizable as a golf course to the steady traffic that passes by on an adjacent interstate road. Harare South began its decline when farmers who supported the club were forced off their land.
Tim Price, Nick's older brother, tried in vain to keep Harare South going before he succumbed to cancer in 2010 at age 60. The vast clubhouse still stands, but when a visitor asked to look around the rest of the deserted property, a stern refusal was delivered from the only person encountered. Independence war veterans are alleged to have occupied the clubhouse.
The Zimbabwean government now faces criticism from a growing number of young black people desperate for change in their country, where more than 14 percent of its 13 million people live with HIV/AIDS, and life expectancy in 2012 was just 50 for men and 47 for women.
"I went in search of the Zimbabwe I knew, and it was a shock: power cuts, water cuts, potholes down the streets, and 80 percent of the population not working," NoViolet Bulawayo told The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom in early September. The 31-year-old's debut novel about her homeland, We Need New Names, is short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.
Bulawayo (real name Elizabeth Tshele) emigrated to the U.S. at 18, returning home for the first time in April. "I knew from news and stories that things were hard, but being there and seeing it for myself was just heart-breaking," she said. "Even now knowing that there are no answers, and it's not going to get better any time so on, is crushing."
The Zimbabwean Presidents Cup captains unanimously agree that their compulsory one-year military training after high school helped them in their professional careers. Although Price (Air Force) and McNulty and Johnstone (Army) were kept away from the front line of the Rhodesian Bush War, the trio admit that the discipline of military training helped them develop strict practice regimens, resulting in the enhanced ability to work on their games for very long periods. The guerrilla war raged from 1972-79 between the government and two opposing factions, Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU).
"Sportsmen were highly revered in Rhodesia, so if anything happened to them in the war, it would have been very bad for morale," says Price, who worked radio signals in 1976. "We all felt like we wanted to do more and join our friends in the action. I did get shot at, though, and had mortars land nearby, so golf was far away at that stage. We didn't necessarily agree with everything that was going on, but in those days you did as you were told."
Price's tone changes noticeably when asked about his last visit to his homeland. In 2003 Price told Golf Digest he had not been "home" for three years and had been subdued in his criticism of the government for fear of reprisals to his extended family. In 2007 the Price family slipped into Zimbabwe for a vacation.
"I wanted my kids to experience the bush, to see a little bit of what I had growing up," says a subdued Price. "We spent two weeks traveling around safari parks and visited the Victoria Falls, but we didn't go to Harare. I didn't want to see how badly things had deteriorated there. We saw wild animals that had been poached and snared -- but people were starving in the height of inflation, so you can understand the desperation they faced.
"Zimbabwe was a country that was starting to flourish in the 1990s, with a massive opportunity to move forward in the new millennium," Price says. "We were a major exporter of maize and wheat to the rest of Africa and one of the largest tobacco producers in the world. I never wanted Rhodesia back; I wanted a unified country back. White farmers learned the African languages, and people treated each other with respect. Everyone was making a huge effort."
Backed by the government, thousands of war independence veterans began invading hundreds of white-owned farms in 2000, claiming colonists had previously seized the land. But the people who took over the farms did not have the skills or education to farm productively, and the farming industry began a rapid decline. "What a lot of people don't know is that many of the white farmers who were invaded had bought their land after independence in 1980," explains Price.
Price and Johnstone didn't come from farming stock, but McNulty's family was forced off their land in 2002. They farmed tobacco, cattle and blue maize 70 miles north of Harare near the town of Centenary. McNulty had a rural upbringing and honed his famed putting stroke on sand greens at Centenary CC, where his mother served on the committee.