The Kenya Open Golf Championship is 50-years old today! Well, perhaps not exactly today, but that will not stop the celebrations planned at the Muthaiga Golf Club through the day and this evening at the Kenya Open @50 Gala Dinner and Dance.
Since 1967, the Kenya Open has been played with the exception of 1976 and 2003, the only two years where circumstances forced a cancellation of this prestigious event.
The Kenya Open is undoubtedly this regions longest running international sporting event, bringing together the best of East Africa’s golf talent and a mix of rising golfing stars from across the globe.
In its early days, the Kenya Open was part of the Safari Tour, a makeshift tour that brought together mainly European golf professionals seeking playing opportunities away from the winter.
According to former KGU chairman Inder Talwar, who was also the first local Kenya Open Tournament Director, in those early days, the visiting professionals were treated like family.
“We would receive the pros at the airport, host them in our homes, drive them to Muthaiga every day and after the tournament, we would take them out on a game Safari,” he said.
“We all worked as volunteers and the KGU was responsible for putting together the event.” Indeed the “safaris” became part and parcel of the Kenyan experience and it is probably from this that the tour derived its name, the “Safari Tour”.
Commenting on those early days, Ngugi Kiuna, the first Chairman of the Kenya Open Golf Limited said that in the early days the KGU ran the event and the officials back then dedicated their time and resources to ensure this event and others on the KGU calendar were well managed.
“We had a dedicated team at KGU and I believe consequent officials at the Union have remained extremely committed to the growth of golf in Kenya,” he said.
“The need to form the KOGL was informed by a need to have continuity for the Kenya Open, and therefore a Limited Company was formed and I was asked to be the chairman.”
According to Peter Kanyago, the 50th anniversary is a special landmark for golf in Kenya. “As members of the golfing fraternity, we have a lot to be proud of in 2018. The KGU are celebrating 90 years, the Kenya Open is 50 years old and it is the most lucrative event on the European Challenge Tour rota,” he said.
“The prize money is now at Euros 500,000 (Sh63.5m) and the winner will take home nearly Sh10 million — we have come a long way from say 2002 when the total prize kitty was not even Sh10 million and even further from the 60s and 70s when the prize money was less than Sh1 million, using current exchange rates.”
Commenting on the individuals and firms that have enabled the Kenya Open to hit the 50th anniversary mark, Kanyago said the list of is long.
“Among the title sponsors, we had Benson & Hedges from 1979 to 1983, 555 from 1984 to 1990 and in the Challenge Tour era, the first title sponsor was Standard Chartered Bank from 1991 to 1996,” he added.
“Lonrho Group and Sameer Group were title sponsors for one year each in 1997 and 2002 respectively. In between Tusker took over from 1998 to 2001 and again from 2005 to 2009. Barclays Bank then took over from 2011 to date, a total of eight years.”
Whilst Tusker have been title sponsors for the most years — a total of nine– Barclays Bank have been the longest running sponsors for eight years.
“The involvement of our title sponsors through the years has been instrumental in ensuring the longevity of this event.
I should also mention that besides our title sponsors we have had some key partners including the Government of Kenya, Nation Media Group, Safaricom Ltd, Coca-Cola, Multichoice, KTB and in 2018, the Ministry of Sports and Heritage and the Ministry of Sports and Wildlife have come in in a bigger way,” Kanyago said.