Kenya Open is here and so is its rich history

Frenchman Romain Langasque was invited to play in the Kenya Open last year. He  has since joined the paid ranks and is plying his trade in Europe. PHOTO | COURTESY
Frenchman Romain Langasque was invited to play in the Kenya Open last year. He has since joined the paid ranks and is plying his trade in Europe. PHOTO | COURTESY 

In two weeks time, the best players from the European Challenge Tour will arrive in Kenya to take part in the 25th edition of the Barclays Kenya Open.

This year, this flagship national golf championship will be played at the Muthaiga Golf Club from March 23 to 26. Joining the over 100 mainly European based professional golfers will be 22 Kenyan professionals and six amateur golfers.

The total field of 150 professional golfers will battle for a slice of the Euros 220,000 (Sh23.8m) prize money kitty on offer, while the six amateur golfers will fight for the Amateur Silver Salver, awarded to the highest ranking amateur player who has made the cut.

In 2016, Frenchman Romain Langasque, then playing as an amateur, finished in second place overall; not winning a dime but claiming the prestigious Amateur Silver Salver.

The Kenyan charge at the 2017 Barclays Kenya Open will be led by Dismas Indiza, Brian Njoroge, Greg Snow and Nelson Mudanyi. Others include Simon Ngige, Matthew Omondi, Jacob Okello, David Wakhu, CJ Wangai, Mbogo Ngugi, David Odhiambo, Nicholas Rokoine, Justus Madoya, Kopan Timbe, Boniface Simwa, Nelson Simwa, Riz Charania, David Opati, JW Karanja and Tom Omuli.

The amateurs will be led by John Karichu, Kenneth Bollo, Alfred Nandwa, Jeff Kubwa, Sujan Shah and Agil Is Haq. According to Kenya Golf Union (KGU) chairman Muchau Githiaka, the elite amateur golfers were selected based on merit and one opportunity given to a top junior golfer.

“The opportunity for our top amateurs to play in the Barclays Kenya Open is a key component in developing talent and it goes a long way in preparing our very best top of class amateurs for their future as professional golfers,” he said.

“This year, we have procured the services of an experienced coach to take the amateurs through training in readiness for the championship, we are hopeful that this will enable them to make the cut and come Sunday we are confident one of them will be awarded the Amateur Silver Salver.” In 1967 the top amateur at the Kenya Open was the legendary Mohammed Rajab, one of the pioneer African golfers from Kibera Golf Club.

Stories are told of how Rajab and other Nubian golfers dominated amateur golf in the 1950s and 60s under very difficult circumstances and racial discrimination.

In 1968, Kenya’s most successful amateur player at the Kenya Open announced his arrival; David Farrar, who had an illustrious career by 1968, claimed the Amateur Silver Salver at the Kenya Open a record seven times.

Farrar shared the winner’s podium with the great Severiano Ballesteros in 1978 and with Christy O’Connor Junior in 1990. In 1984, Lawrence Nginyo Kariuki was the amateur winner and in 1994 the crown went to Jacob Okello who went on to become one of the most successful Kenyan professional golfers. Muthaiga’s Kumar Dhall was the amateur winner in 1993 and again 2001. He served in the national team for over a decade.

After Dhall’s victory in 2001, Kenya Open would go for several years without an amateur winner. That long dry spell was broken by Nakuru’s James Lorum in 2006 and Njoro’s Simon Ngige in 2007.

Main trophy

In 2008, none of the six amateur golfers who were invited to play in the Tusker Kenya Open made the cut; they included Greg Snow, Ken Abuto, Ganeev Giddie, Simon Ngigi, David Wakhu and John Kagiri.

In 2016 Patrick Obath, Barclays Kenya Open tournament director, invited Frenchman Romain Langasque — one of the top amateurs in the world — to participate in the event. Unlike in previous years where amateur participants were merely competing for experience and the Silver Salver, Langasque went for the main trophy, finishing in second place overall after a sterling performance.

Langasque has since joined the paid ranks and is currently plying his trade in Europe. “The performance of Langasque at the 2016 Barclays Kenya Open should be a lesson for all our elite amateur golfers, indeed very little in terms of performance and skills separates the top amateur golfers from professionals,” Githiaka said.

“I know our amateurs may not be at the same level, but they have all the ingredients to be great professional golfers and make a good account of themselves at Muthaiga in two weeks’ time.”