Golfing Across Mongolia

Not particularly known for its smooth-as-glass putting surfaces or sublime golfing seasons, Mongolia is nonetheless the place a 35-year-old civil engineer from New Hampshire has decided to spend his summer playing golf. With only a 3-iron in hand, Andre Tolme has divided Mongolia – a country twice the size of Texas – into 18 holes. His “course” stretches 2,322,000 yards. Its par is 11,880 strokes.

Tolme is making his trek across the land of Genghis Khan with a caddie. Khatanbaatar carries Tolme’s water, food and a tent in a Russian jeep customized with an upholstery of handwoven rugs for sleeping at night. The golfer began his quest on May 28, according to reporter James Brooke of the New York Times, and plans to complete his “round” in the trading center of Dund-Us around the end of July 2004.

Tolme narrates his extreme golf quest on a website, He’s encountered surprisingly little resistance to his odd odyssey, finding Mongolians affable and quite the partiers, enduring major drinking sessions that left everyone asleep in a yurt. “When I say I am American,” Tolme told Brooke, “the universal response is, ‘Ah, American, very good country, we like Americans.’ “

As expected, Tolme has experienced his share of hazards. He’s encountered hungry flies and, on one occasion, a poisonous snake that wrapped itself around his golf ball, protecting it as if it were an egg. But he’s also been taught how to sear sheep and hobble a horse. In return for these tips, he give golf lessons to any interested onlookers.

Tolme has seen quite a few things that everyday hackers won’t find on golf courses. He spent a night listening to a chorus of howling wolves; stood dumbstruck as children race horses down the steppe toward him; and swung away while bypassing crumbling monasteries and a dinosaur-bone quarry.

The engineer has been helped in his Mongolian traverse by a hand-held Global Positioning System device, which directs him toward the ultimate “clubhouse.” Tolme tries to golf 10 miles a day, skirting mountain ranges and enduring pouring rains. “I only use the tee when I start a hole,” Tolme said, adding that he plays by “winter rules because Mongolia can be often cold.”

This is actually Tolme’s second Mongolian golfing adventure. Last summer, he teed off on June 5 in Choyblasan, an old Soviet Army garrison town in the country’s far eastern corner by the Chinese border. Fifty days and 352 lost balls later, Tolme halted his round, acquiescing to the nettles and high weeds near Arvayheer, his “ninth hole” and the location from which Brooke caught up with him.

If all goes well, Tolme – perhaps in another 5,000 strokes with his trusty, albeit dented, 3-iron –will hole out in Dund-Us, a Western Mongolian destination popular with tourists for its deep lakes, high mountains and fast rivers. His only deadline is to beat the late July rains and subsequent weed explosion.

In explaining the challenge of playing golf on “fairways” bereft of definition and in a land without fences, Tolme said, “You hit the ball. Then you go and find it. Then you hit it again. And again. And again.”

The photos for this article are courtesy of Andre Tolme and

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