For those who indulge in and enjoy the game of golf, it is not just a sport, it is the greatest of all time, the ultimate pastime if you like, that requires both physical and mental fitness; one that demands a myriad of elements to work in perfect sync to produce even one good shot over a four-to-five-hour round.
Every week, commonly twice or thrice, golfers meet at their clubs, monthly mugs, Saturday club events and corporate golf days. In all of these, they participate as individuals, not teams, and that is why golf is popularly viewed as an individual sport. However, every time it is played as a team sport, the atmosphere gets charged. For example, in Kenya, the Tannahill Shield — hosted by the Royal Nairobi Golf Club over the Easter holidays and that includes nine club teams — is perhaps the most celebrated amateur competition dating back 93 years! Clubs prepare extensively to participate in the Tannahill Shield, they design and import uniform and practice the various competitions formats for months prior to the event. A place in any team is prestigious and highly coveted.
Similarly, even the best golfers in the world, from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy, playing for their nations or regions is perhaps as important as winning a major golf tournament. The Ryder Cup, played every two years since 1927, is recognised as the epitome of professional golf team competition, pitting Team USA vs Team Europe. In the early days of the Ryder Cup, Team USA competed against Team Great Britain but in 1979, the rest of Europe was included to mitigate against the dominance of Team USA. In the last decade, however, Team Europe has proved victorious seven times, asserting its dominance. The winning Team Europe Captain at the 2018 Ryder Cup, played in France, was Thomas Bjorn who accepted the invitation of the Kenya Open to play at the 2019 Magical Kenya Open.
By the way, being named a Ryder Cup Captain is also a big deal, the list of past captains is illustrious and it is a great privilege and honour to lead either team. The list of past captains includes Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros for Team Europe and greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Jim Furyk for Team USA. This year, indeed next week at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia, Tiger Woods will lead Team USA at the Presidents Cup as both a captain and player. The Presidents Cup, Team USA vs Rest of the World (minus Europe) has been played since 1994 and each event has an honorary chairman. Past chairmen include former Presidents George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, Thabo Mbeki, Barack Obama and Donald Trump in 2017. And whilst both the Ryder and Presidents Cups don’t include prize money for the players, they have both raised millions of dollars for charities around the world. In the last decade, the Presidents Cup has raised over $32 million for charities.
In the amateur ranks, the Junior Ryder Cup and the Walker Cup are ‘must-play’ events for the top amateurs in the world. And whilst the main Ryder Cup is a men-only affair, the Junior version includes teams of six boys and six girls. Royal Nairobi also introduced a Junior Tannahill Shield a few years ago, a great move by the club – and I expect that in coming years, that junior version will include young girls as well (say a prayer with me).
The Solheim Cup is the women version of the Ryder Cup and it is as charged and as emotional as the Ryder Cup. Girls under 18 participate in the Junior Solheim Cup.
Golf was re-admitted to the Olympic Games in Rio 2016 and this presented another opportunity for the top players in the world to compete for gold medals, not money, and to compete for their respective national teams. Tiger Woods recently said that he desired to win an Olympic Gold.
“Making the Olympic team is a big goal; I don’t see myself having too many opportunities other than next year,” he said. “Four years from now, at the next Olympic Games, I will be 48-years-old. To be one of the top Americans at that age is going to be tough.”
On his part, Rory McIlroy has declared his intention to lead Ireland to the Olympic Games. “I think it would be a great experience and more likely than not, I will play,” he said. “I had an unbelievable amateur career – and I don’t mean that in terms of results – but I mean that in the experiences I had, the trips that I had, the friendships that I made and the friendships that I still have to this day. That was all because of playing for Ireland and getting close to some of those guys. I’m excited to be going to the Olympics. I’m excited to play for Ireland.”