Kenya loss to Uganda in EA Challenge offers key lessons

Agil Is-hag follows the progress of his tee
Agil Is-hag follows the progress of his tee during the Rapid Golf Challenge on August 27, 2014, at Muthaiga Golf Club. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Kenya lost to Uganda in the recent East Africa Golf Challenge. I was sad and happy. Sad because this eight-man team, made up of four senior players and others junior, deserved to win.

Kenya’s top elite amateur golfer John Karichu from the Limuru Country Club, Tony Omuli from Golf Park, Alfred Nandwa from Kenya Railways and the four juniors: Kush Mediratta from Sigona Golf Club, Agil Is Hag, Mathew Wahome and Tahir Mohamed all from the Nyali fought hard and gave the tournament their all.

But I am also happy they lost. Let me explain. The East Africa Golf Challenge was first played in 1999, in its 16-year history, Kenya has won the trophy 11 times, clearly dominating it. While Kenya may chest-thump and be happy about these victories, they are not good for Kenya.

Kenya has a very low number of golfers, under 10,000 by any count. Most of these golfers are weekend golfers who play off handicaps that more resemble room temperature.

Few are single figure handicap golfers and even fewer are Kenya-team material. If you include the East African region, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, the number of what I may call elite amateurs increases by a small margin.

What am I driving at? For our top Kenyan amateurs to grow and become international champions, they need the level of golf in the whole of East Africa.

A stronger Uganda team and a stronger Tanzania team is actually great for Kenyan golf. For our amateurs to step up their game, they need to be threatened and shaken, at home, at the county level and across our immediate neighbourhood. Rising standards of golf in Uganda will lead to rising standards of golf in Kenya and Tanzania and vice versa.

Honestly, Kenya has been the big brother in the region. Former KGU leaders such as David Nyakango, Patrick Obath and Sam Ndegwa were keen to see an East African Golf Federation in force for good reasons.

I would go further and say, the Kenya Golf Union Golfer of the Year series, the most established amateur golf circuit in East and Central Africa should be open to all amateurs from around the world.

The match play and stroke play championships should also be open to amateurs from across the globe. And anyone winning these events should be automatically eligible for a slot in the Kenya Open Golf Championship.

Perhaps eight years ago, I stand to be corrected, Ugandan Deo Akope, then playing as an amateur, won the KGU Amateur Strokeplay Championship but was not awarded the automatic slot into the Kenya Open because he was not Kenyan. I say good riddance to such rules, let the Ugandans come to Kenya and shake the aging Kenyan amateurs in their boots.

Let them come and battle it out with the elite juniors from Sigona, Muthaiga and the Nyali brigade. Let our players go across the borders and play in test matches – allow for competition and by so doing encourage mutual growth.

I am tired of seeing 40 plus-year old amateurs still wearing our national colours as players – that slot is the preserve of the upcoming juniors who have a future as elite amateurs and hopefully as professionals. What future does a 40 year old amateur have beyond a club monthly mug competition?

Uganda’s victory was great for the growth of the game in the region and it should be applauded and encouraged. We must lose these local skirmishes to win the bigger wars.
Life begins at 40, but not for professional golfers.