Professional Golf in Kenya is growing. The Kenya Open Golf Championship is now a fully fledged member of the European Tour with a prize kitty of 1.2 million euros (Sh139.2 million) and the Karen Masters is a full member of the Sunshine Tour and with a prize kitty of two million rands (Sh15 million).
There is also talk of another Sunshine Tour event in Kenya, perhaps at the Coast, and the Kenya Open Golf Ltd recently launched the Safari Tour in August 2018 with a total prize fund of Sh12 million through seven events in the first season.
Across East and Central Africa, professional golf has also grown, with the Uganda Open and Malawi Open both offering prize funds of $50,000 each.
In West Africa, the West Africa Golf Tour, now renamed the African Tour, lists seven events with prize funds of $25,000 each, one with a $50,000 fund in Owerri City in Imo State and one with a fund of $75,000 in Abuja.
And whilst these developments are great for men professional golfers and the elite amateurs and juniors who look up to them, there has been little growth in the ladies game at either the junior, amateur or professional ranks.
In our history and perhaps in East and Central African golf, there has only been one long-standing lady professional golfer — the famous Rose Naliaka, who joined the paid ranks in 2005, joining the Women’s Professional Golf Association in South Africa.
At that time Naliaka tried her hand in Europe and even on the LPGA and in 2006 she formed the Rose Naliaka Golf Academy that focuses on training golf to young girls from less than fortunate backgrounds.
“We just don’t focus on golf, we also train the girls about life and how to become better citizens,” says Naliaka.
“I realise that not all our students will one day earn a living playing golf and for those who don’t, we want to have at least succeeded in giving them hope and a better shot at life.”
The only other lady professional golfers in East Africa include Kenya’s Bhavi Shah and Uganda’s Flavia Namakula.
Shah joined the paid ranks in 2013 having attended the LET Q-School. She played on the Indian and Asian Tour in 2014 and in 2015 she played on the Sunshine Ladies Tour. Namakula plays on the Sunshine Ladies Tour alongside Nigeria’s 18-year professional Georgia Oboh.
But is it all doom and gloom for ladies professional golf?
Vipingo Ridge, East Africa’s best golf resort, will this weekend host two ProAm events featuring 13 lady professional golfers from the Ladies European Tour (LET) in what I reckon is the warm up to a full LET event in Kenya within 12 months. The Baobab Course at Vipingo, the only PGA accredited golf course in Africa was constructed from 2005 and has since matured to become a world-class golf course and resort.
“We have been fortunate to attract 13 members from the Ladies European Tour to the PGA Baobab Course on their way from the Fatima Mubarak Ladies Open in Abu Dhabi to the Australian Ladies Classic Bonville in Australia,” says Vipingo Ridge general manager Mike Round-Turner.
“These lady professionals will be playing in two ProAms, one on Friday, February 1 in the afternoon and one on Saturday in the morning. Thirty-six very lucky amateurs will join the lady professionals as they play the Baobab Course.”
The lady professionals include 29-year-old Florentyna Parker of England, who has won three times on tour. She is currently ranked 33rd on the 2019 LET Order of Merit. Parker was a member of the 2017 Solheim Cup team.
Laura Fuenfsteuck from Germany and Amy Boulden of Wales are both ranked 11th on the 2019 LET Order of Merit. They finished T11 at the Fatima Bint Mubarak Open in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
Other lady professionals areSweden’s Linda Wessberg, Cajsa Persson, Camilla Lennarth and Frida Gustafsson Spang, Spanish Noemi Jiminez Martin, English duo Inci Mehmet and Annabel Dimmock, Scotland’s Kelsey Macdonald and Laura Murray and Norway’s Marita Engzelius.
Among the invited amateurs is one of Kenya’s most talented lady golfers Naomi Wafula, who will not only have a front-row seat to professional golf but will also have a chance to test her skills against the world’s best. The 20-year-old from the Kitale Golf Club is graduate of the Rose Naliaka Golf Academy.
“Naomi has many accolades to her name, she is the current Nyali Bowl champion so she will be familiar with coastal weather conditions and she is a former ladies national golf champion with many caps for her country,” says Round-Turner.
“We have also invited 13-year-old Alyssa Jamal from Nyali Golf and Country Club. Alyssa is an 8-handicap golfer with much promise and we are sure this experience will give her added motivation to improve her game and one day join the lady professionals of the Ladies European Tour as an equal.”