November 25, 2011 / 5:44 PM / in 6 years

Montgomerie replaces bullets with golf balls in Afghanistan

KABUL (Reuters) - Colin Montgomerie has helped transform soldiers' firing ranges into driving ranges on a trip to Afghanistan to support foreign troops and promote golf in a country with plenty of checkpoints, but few fairways.

The 48-year-old Scot gave golf lessons and donated equipment to troops and Afghan children on a three-day trip this week where he travelled from the main British military base in Helmand, one of the country's most violent regions, to foreign troops' headquarters in the capital city Kabul.

The former European Ryder Cup captain said he had helped turn a 300-meter firing range into a makeshift golf driving range at Camp Bastion in Helmand.

"We used the long-range firing range," Montgomerie told reporters in Kabul on Friday. "It was quite good to get the lads out and to have a go."

Later Montgomerie showed off his golfing prowess on a patchy soccer field at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters. He gave swing tips to army personnel and about two dozen Afghan children who had never picked up a golf club before.

"It's the first time I've ever done this on a football pitch," he joked while swinging his club and targeting a soccer goal down the other end of the field -- he hit it on his fourth attempt, to cheers.

But later he said the trip also had serious intentions to promote golf and bring relief to troops.

"These kids, they were born into war and grew up in war and it's been a very difficult," he said, adding he hoped that the Afghans might qualify a golf team for the 2016 Olympics, where golf will be played again. "It is great to promote the game here to encourage the Afghans to have a team there in 2016."

Masoma Alyari, a 15-year-old Afghan schoolgirl, hit the ball after several airswings and said she hoped to play again.

"It's the first time that I've played golf, and it's really interesting," she said.

Montgomerie, who has been succeeded as Ryder Cup captain by Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal, said it was a first for him to visit a country in the midst of war and that of all of his golf experiences, "it has to be the most unique."

He is traveling with the Ryder Cup trophy his team won at Celtic Manor in Wales last year on the trip planned by the Professional Golfers' Association of Britain and Ireland.

Mohammad Afzal Abdul, the golf pro at the dusty nine-hole Kabul Golf Club -- dubbed the most dangerous in the world -- said he hoped Montgomerie might inspire others to play in a country torn apart by three decades of occupation, civil war, Taliban rule and now the NATO-led military campaign.

"Maybe when Afghanistan's security is better, maybe more golfers will come," he said.

Editing by Dave Thompson

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