Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk”.
For Pakistan sports, that’s what has happened over the years. One talker after another has promised progress but you can’t just talk your way to development. And one thinker after another has told stories of a better tomorrow but, as they say, actions speak louder than words. You can change things just by thinking that they would.
It has been the same story across Pakistan’s sports spectrum and golf is no exception.
Despite the fact that it is one of the fastest growing sports in the country, golf remains at the fringes of public imagination. Despite the fact that every day we hear about a new golf course coming up in some new luxury housing society, the standard of the game itself continues to go down.
Over the years, Pakistan has produced quality players like Ghulam Nabi and Shabbir Iqbal in the professionals’ category and Taimur Hassan in amateurs but such success stories have been few and far between. Apart from Taimur Hussain, who won the Myanmar Open back in 1999, no Pakistani player has ever made his presence felt at the international level. Players like Shabbir Iqbal are merely big fish in what is a very small pond.
At the moment, Pakistan do not even have players of the level of Taimur, who moved away from the country of his birth at the height of his professional career back in the late nineties.
The script has to change if Pakistan golf is to move forward. And the good thing is that for the first time in years, there could be hope. That’s because the new man at the helm of national golf affairs comes across as a doer who thinks.
Lt General Mian Hilal Hussain, who took over as the PGF President from Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam last November, has set himself on a mission to take Pakistan golf to the next level. Unlike the past when the PGF almost always failed to follow through on its plans to lift Pakistan golf, under General Hilal it seems to be on a new, more positive course.
I recently met General Hilal in Karachi and was impressed by the solid commitment he made to put Pakistan golf on the right track. It was probably the first time that a PGF President sought advice from various stakeholders in his bid to chalk out a blue-print for Pakistan golf. He came across as a good listener and when he spoke, it was evident that he was clear in his mind about how to initiate his plans to raise the standard of the sport in the country.
“We lag far behind in golf,” he told ‘The News on Sunday’. “Our courses are generally not up to the mark, our players aren’t world class but that doesn’t mean we will give up. We will have to change our course and implement plans which can lift our golf,” he said.
The General is already working on plans to bring in both public and private sectors to back Pakistan golf. His target is to get maximum possible organisations to back players including professionals, amateurs, juniors and ladies.
The idea is to broaden the pool of players nationally.
His other target is to help improve the various courses in the country. Pakistan has several prestigious golf clubs in its major cities but unfortunately most of them aren’t fit to host international events because of the low standard of their greens.
“We will have to improve the standard of our courses because unless we do that Pakistan is not going to produce players who can win at the international level,” he said.
The General sounded optimistic about the future of Pakistan golf. Personally, I do share his optimism but due to past experiences I also have my doubts.
The problem with fixing Pakistan golf is that you don’t know where to begin. For years, it has been functioning on a faulty system that is good enough to barely keep it running. It is good enough to barely keep it afloat.
The problem begins with PGF itself. For years, it has failed to act as an effective governing body of the game. The half-hearted attempts that it did make failed to yield desired results.
General Hilal will have to rethink the game plan. He and his team will need to take concrete and, at times, long-term steps to improve the standard of Pakistan golf.
The wish-list of things that need to be done is a long one. But I’ll just talk of five key areas.
Make golf more accessible
That’s a tough task considering that despite its growth in the past years, golf remains a highly exclusive sport. There are roughly around 12,000 active golfers in Pakistan. That figure needs to go up but it can only happen if golf is more accessible for players who are not members of the various posh clubs. The PGF should device a plan aimed at bringing school and college student into golf. The federation should rope in the support of the various clubs so that talent hunt schemes are carried out and the best players are allowed to play on the course free of cost.
Emphasis on junior development
It was good to see the Faldo Series Pakistan event taking place in Karachi for the first time. The tournament featured around 65 juniors from all over the country. Pakistan golf needs more such events. In fact, it needs a full-fledged junior development programme because only by producing world class golfers can PGF raise the profile of Pakistan golf.
Get the best out of provincial associations
The Sindh Golf Association (SGA) headed by Asad I.A Khan does a great job, hosting a series of national-level tournaments annually. But unlike SGA, other associations seldom contribute. The PGF should help activate them and use the associations as its limbs to execute development projects
Chalk out a national action plan
The temptation for PGF will be to line up a few projects and execute them but what it should do is prepare a comprehensive, long-term plan aimed at raising the standard of the sport. The PGF should take inputs from all stakeholders while preparing the plan and should start implementing it as soon as its ready.
Make golf more attractive for youth
Why should anybody take up golf? It’s not an easy sport to play. It’s expensive and time-consuming. To attract youngsters, PGF will have to help package it as an exciting sport. There should be more tournaments like the Faldo Series. Last November, the PGF spent around R2.5 million on sending a senior team to compete in a tournament in Australia. It was money gone down the drain. The PGF should not waste funds on fifty or sixty something golfers and instead invest in the youth because they are ones who have the potential to give Pakistan golf a better tomorrow.