The Kabul Golf Club, situated below the walls of a picturesque dam on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, is a struggling but surviving symbol of optimism in a strife-torn country where many citizens are growing increasingly pessimistic about the reconstruction process. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
"It's just like it was 25 years ago," club professional and director Muhammad Afzal Abdul said through his beaming, gap-toothed smile on a recent busy day.
Not quite. In the 1960s and 1970s -- before the Russian occupation began in December of 1979, followed by civil war and the Taliban takeover -- the well-manicured course was a playground for Afghan royalty, diplomats and others.
When the course reopened in 2002, the skeletons of burned out tanks and the other detritus of war had to be towed off the fairways. Now, the course is once again popular with foreigners, offering a rare outdoor break from high security compounds. Afghans are also playing in increasing numbers.
"It's a bit of fun," says Briton Rachel Reid, as she walks down the third fairway, her head covered in a scarf - even this playground must bear in mind Afghanistan's conservative Islamic traditions. "It's a very Kabul thing.
"It's always good just to get outside."
Abdul, now 49, took up the game as an 8-year-old after watching some foreigners playing four decades ago. One let him take a swing, and then gave him a single club and a ball to practice with.
Abdul went on to become the country's best player, winning several tournaments, before being jailed by first the Russians, then the Taliban and then fleeing to Pakistan where he worked as a taxi driver to feed his family.
He returned in 2002 soon after US-led forces drove the Taliban from power. With the help of a foreign friend, he started rebuilding the course on land controlled by a Mujahedeen warlord who also owns the Lake Qargha Park at the dam above, a popular picnic and boating spot crammed with Afghan families every Friday.
The fairways are a treacherous combination of tufts of weeds, razor-sharp thorns and dirt. The "greens" are a combination of sand and oil swept smooth before each putt. Each player needs two caddies - one to carry the clubs and a plate-sized piece of artificial grass to hit from; the other posted ahead to "spot" the ball when it lands.
The club's website - www.kabulgolfclub.com -- contains handy hints for players used to more ... comfortable ... courses than the 9-hole Kabul layout, which plays as a par 72 over 18 holes. "Wear long trousers and socks for protection from desert plants. Lockers and showers are not available, but you can go jump in the lake for free," the site helpfully suggests.
Abdul runs coaching clinics for about 20 boys, aged 8-14. For instruction, he used the club's handful of battered sets of clubs and the seven surviving golf balls. And he plans regular tournaments for Afghans.
The club, Afghanistan's only course, runs as a modestly successful small business by Afghan standards these days. It employs more than 30 gardeners and caddies and makes enough money to keep the warlord happy.
Although the main road to the lake runs through the course and the fences are rudimentary to non-existent, security consists of just a couple of relaxed guards carrying AK-47s at the front gate.
"Security is getting better every day," says the ever-optimistic Abdul. "Everyone wants to play."
Terry Friel is a freelance reporter who specializes in Caucasus and Central Asian affairs.