It was Thursday evening and, quite unusually, there was festive atmosphere at the Karachi Golf Club. The professionals featuring in the UMA 22nd Chief of Naval Staff Open Golf Championship had long finished their round and most of them were by then relaxing in their rooms getting ready for the second round of what is the most lucrative tournament on the national golf circuit.
At the centre of the festivities was Vivek Anand, a 17-year-old Karachi student who had made a hole-in-one in the amateurs’ event of the UMA-CNS Open to win a brand new Toyota Fortuner. His family was there to surprise him.
It was a stroke of good luck that allowed Vivek, a talented youngster, to win what is one of the most lucrative prizes on offer on the national circuit.
Things come much harder to most other golfers, who have taken up the sport as a profession. Its seldom that lady luck smiles on them.
Baring a few top professionals, most other players struggle to make ends meet. Things would have been even harder had events like the UMA-CNS Open, which will conclude here at the Karachi Golf Club on Sunday (today), not been there. The championship offers a lucrative prize basket of Rs7 million, by far the biggest ever offered on the national circuit.
But the problem is that such events are few and far between. While players like Shabbir Iqbal, the reigning Pakistan No.1, manage to win the lion’s share of the prize money, other, lower-rated golfers are not as lucky.
All of that will have to change if Pakistan golf is to move to the next level. In countries like neighbouring India, golf has already become an industry where professionals get the sort of attention that they deserve. Even in Bangladesh, golf has established itself as a major sport thanks to the exploits of players like Siddikur Rehman on the international circuit.
Pakistan golf has lagged behind with not a single players from the country on the international circuit.
But will things change for Pakistan golf?
To get a more in-depth view of the state of the game, ‘The News on Sunday’ talked to some of the stake-holders. Most of them are optimistic about the future of Pakistan golf but concede that a lot more is needed to be done to ensure a better tomorrow for it. A lot more means, a lot more efforts in the right direction, a lot more funds, a lot more hard work and dedication from the players and a lot more planning from the officials running the game. Will the national golfing fraternity manage to meet this challenge remains to be seen.
‘We will bring international golf to Pakistan’
Pakistan Navy has a long association with national golf and Rear Admiral Ather Mukhtar, Commander Karachi, is proud of it. As President of the prestigious Karachi Golf Club, Admiral Ather takes a keen interest in national golf matters. One of his targets as President KGC is to help bring international golfing action back to Pakistan.
“As president KGC, one of my biggest targets is to bring the Asian Tour back to KGC,” he said.
It’s been more than ten years since Pakistan last hosted an Asian Tour event. The country staged back-to-back events at KGC in 2006 and 2007 when the Pakistan Open became part of the prestigious Asian Tour.
England’s Chris Rodgers won the inaugural event ahead of India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and Amandeep Johl. In 2007 Malaysia’s Airil Rizman claimed his maiden Asian Tour title with a two stroke triumph over Scott Hend of Australia.
Pakistan’s golf officials have tried and failed in the past to put the country back on the Asian Tour map. The two major reasons behind their failure were security concerns and a lack of sponsorship.
Admiral Ather was confident that both the hurdles could be overcome in a bid to hold an Asian Tour event at KGC in the near future.
He is of the view that where there is a will there is a way.
“Our aim is to provide a boost to Pakistan golf and for that cause I’m sure that we will garner best possible support from all quarters.”
‘We are doing it for the sake of Pakistan’
Sohail Shams, CEO of United Marine Agencies, has over the years become a well-known figure in national golf circles and not without reason. He not only sponsors the richest event on the national circuit – UMA-CNS Open – but also supports golfers with a big heart.
“My only incentive (for supporting golf) is Pakistan,” he said. “I support golf because it is my dream to see the flag of Pakistan flying high on the Asian Tour, European Tour and other leading golf events of the world,” he added.
“We at UMA have always been at the forefront in promoting healthy activities and sponsoring different sporting events including golf since 1993. We consider it as a part of our Corporate Social responsibility. UMA’s association with PGF’s flagship event – the Chief of Naval Staff Open Golf Championship began in 2009. And today, with joint efforts of UMA and Pakistan Navy, the championship has risen from a purse of Rs2.5 million in 2009 to become the biggest and richest golf tournament of Pakistan with a purse of Rs7 million this year.
“Being an avid golfer myself, I always felt that there is ample room for improvement and promotion of this sport. By sponsoring golf events I aspire to motivate our budding golfers to showcase their abilities, avenues which are otherwise difficult to find. I am confident that my efforts to harness the massive golfing potential that exists in Pakistan would bear fruit and very soon our golfers would be competing on the world-level and making us proud with their achievements.
“We have had several prestigious Asian tournaments in the past and I think there is potential for more. I think for golf to really grow it needs to be nurtured at a grass roots level. One such initiative taken by my company that made history was to feature a caddies’ competition with a prize of almost half-a-million rupees at UMA 19th CNS Open Golf Championship 2014, making it the first ever championship in Pakistan to offer a platform for these unsung heroes of every golf course. The effort was to make sure that they get an opportunity to display their talent and have a shot at the prize. If we can provide more such opportunities then the sport will definitely grow.”
‘We have to broaden pool of young players’
When Commodore Ghazanfar Abbas took over as Chief Operating Officer of the Karachi Golf Club (KGC), one of the various goals he set for himself was to bring in young boys and girls, who had no access to any decent golfing facility. The reason behind this was the fact that Ghazanfar had over the years carried out various talent-hunt projects in sports shooting.
Ghazanfar is one of the most decorated national shooters. Over the years, he has trained many talented shooters. His own son is also a leading shooter at age 23.
“If you want to promote and develop a sport in any country the first thing that you have to do is broaden the pool of young boys and girls playing it,” he said. That’s precisely the reason why Ghazanfar hosted a full-fledged summer camp at the KGC in July this year which also served as a talent-hunt programme.
The camp was attended by over 100 boys and girls and was supervised by coaches hired by KGC. The exercise had the backing of Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) and Sindh Golf Association (SGA).
“It was a pleasant surprise to see young kids taking a keen interest in the game,” he said.
“Many of them were quick to learn the ropes and got the feel of it. We were able to spot several youngsters for future training.
“I’m sure that more such camps will help KGC find talented players, who can be trained to become top-class golfers.”
‘Our hopes rest on professionals’
Sindh Golf Association (SGA) is one of the most active provincial sports bodies in the country and the driving force behind it is one man – Asad I.A Khan. Having served as Secretary SGA in the past, Asad is currently serving his second stint as the association’s president. Having represented Pakistan at the international level, Asad has a long association with the game. Over the years, Asad and his SGA have been striving hard to develop the game.
“Sometimes it is very disappointing to see that we have not managed to really raise the profile of the game in Pakistan the way we should have,” he said.
“There are many stumbling blocks in the way but no hurdle is too big to overcome. We have to find ways and means to provide a boost to golf in Pakistan.”
Asad believes that both the government and private sector should come forward and support golf.
“We have a negative image abroad and personally I believe that golf can help in softening it,” he said.
“It is a sport with a mass appeal in many countries like the United States. If we have an international presence in golf, it will provide a soft image of Pakistan.”
Asad stressed that the hopes of Pakistan golf rests on the shoulders of professional golfers.
“It’s in the professional arena that we have hopes but for our players to win laurels internationally we will have to take a series of steps.
“We have to train and groom our players and give them ample international exposure. All of that needs big funds and for the government and private sector will have to help.”
‘Pakistan golf has immense potential’
Brigadier Nayyar Afzal is 67 but if you will take him for granted on the golf course you will do it at your own peril. A 5-handicapper, Nayyar has a knack for making birdies and that too at regular intervals. That’s why it was hardly surprising when Nayyar topped the national trials held in Karachi earlier this month to select Pakistan’s team for the Asia Pacific Seniors Championship to be held in October in Australia. While other team members are busy preparing themselves for the prestigious event, Nayyar has more important matters to deal with. As Secretary of the Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF), Nayyar is entrusted with the tough task of developing a sport that is still associated with the elite.
On the face of it, golf doesn’t seem to be progressing in Pakistan the way it has in other regional countries like India and even Bangladesh. But Nayyar believes that it has progressed and will continue to grow.
“Pakistan golf has immense potential,” he says. “But for it for cornet that potential into actual achievement we need major stake-holders like the country’s leading golf clubs to come forward.
“The golf clubs of this country can play a major role. They are the ones who can take our golf to the next level. They can bring in school kids and help them take up this game.
“We at the PGF can facilitate them by bringing in foreign coaches and providing any other assistance that is required.”
Nayyar also believes that sponsorship from the private sector can really provide a shot in the arm to Pakistan golf.
“Sponsors like UMA who are supporting the ongoing CNS Open in Karachi can play a very crucial role. They can provide a lifeline to Pakistan golf. I hope that more companies like UMA will come forward to provide much-needed helping hand to the sport.”