Kenyan golf rules guru’s long journey to the top

Vincent Wang’ombe during a past game of golf. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Vincent Wang’ombe during a past game of golf. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Many golfers around the world agree that The Open Championship is the greatest golf event of all time and that the Claret Jug is the most prestigious, most coveted trophy in golf and sport.

This weekend, the Open is being played at the Royal Birkdale, Merseyside, just north of Liverpool. This will be the 10th time this club will be hosting the Open.

Now, whilst no Kenyan has yet to qualify to play at the Open, this weekend, a Kenyan will walk the fairways of the golf course, and in his hands, instead of golf clubs, will be a rule book, a pair of binoculars perhaps, a pen and clipboard. Representing Kenya at the Open is our very own foremost golf rules guru, Vincent Wang’ombe.

In April 2017, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A) of Scotland, sent Wangombe an invitation to officiate at the 146th edition of The Open, a most prestigious and honourable role.

In essence, Wangombe will mingle freely with not only the top golf referees in the world but also the leading golf professional players, who will turn to him for ‘rulings’ at the Royal Birkdale.

Earlier in the year, Wang’ombe was also invited to officiate at the Ras Al Khaimah Open, a European Challenge Tour event that takes place in October in the UAE and at the 2017 Barclays Kenya.

European Challenge Tour Tournament director, Paul Carrigill requested Wangombe to take up the important role of setting up the back nine (holes 10 to 18).

This role meant it was Wang’ombe who decided what tee and pin positions the golf professionals encountered on the back nine during the Kenya Open.

According to Carrigill, this was the first time a Kenyan had been entrusted with this responsibility on the European Challenge Tour.

But how did Wang’ombe get here? In a recent interview, he said he started playing golf at Mucheru’s pitch and putt golf course at Karen.

“In 2004, I visited Mucheru’s facility at Karen, and I would drive there and hit golf balls around that public facility.

“A year later, my father, who had abandoned golf for over a decade, took me to a golf course, the Thika Sports Club and he essentially guided me through my first golf round,” he said.

“That round was significant for both of us, my dad returned to golf and he still plays as often as he can, and the Rule book he gave me that day set me off on this officiating path. Perhaps I didn’t know it then, but looking back now, that was the defining moment.”

Commenting on his passion for rules vis a vis his golf skills, Wang’ombe confessed he was a far better referee.

“My golf game is average when I break 90, I celebrate for weeks, it is a tough game. Perhaps that is why I escaped to the Rules book! Over the last 12 years, I have religiously read the Rules of Golf, I have read the Decisions Book, I have attended workshops and classes, and I have taught at many seminars and every day I learn new things.

“The Rules of Golf are dynamic because golf courses are not like football fields, there are all many of bushes and ant hills and so on, making the permutation of scenarios infinite!” he added.

“In 2013 I was vice golf captain at Limuru and I made it my duty to officiate during club nights. I started conducting Rules Quizzes, just five questions every club night and that informed the members and myself.”