For years Pakistan golf has stayed on the sidelines. The country has produced some good players besides playing host to several international golf tournaments. But the sport’s profile has remained low.
Things are finally changing.
In recent months, a 19-year-old from Lahore has been making waves internationally. Ahmed Baig, whom many see as Pakistan golf’s big hope, won the Qatar Amateur title in Doha and then became the first Pakistani to claim Under-21 title at the Faldo Series Asia Final in Vietnam in March.
Off the course, Pakistani authorities have managed to put the country back on the international golfing map by securing an Asian Tour tournament in Karachi in July.
Pakistan last figured on the Asian Tour back in 2007 after which the country went off the radar because of security fears especially after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore in 2009.
But that isolation should end in July when the sprawling Karachi Golf Club, one of the oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in the region, will host the US$300,000 Chief of Naval Staff Open. The four-day championship featuring Asian Tour stars and possibly a European Tour winner, will be played from July 26-29. The tournament should provide Pakistan golf with a huge boost.
The tournament was confirmed after top Asian Tour officials gave the go-ahead for it following a recent security and course inspection. A field of more than 80 foreigners which is expected to include Asian Tour and even European Tour winners will compete in the CNS Open.
“It’s going to be a major development not just for Pakistan golf but for Pakistan,” Bilal Rafi Muneer, the KGC Captain, told ‘The News on Sunday’.
“An Asian Tour event in Pakistan will send the right signals to the world and will come at a good time and will serve as a follow up after the recent cricket matches here,” he added.
Bilal was in the thick of action when the idea to bring back the Asian Tour to Pakistan was put back on the table.
The Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) had been trying in the past to stage an Asian Tour event in the country. It did achieve some success when it hosted an Asian Development Tour event in Lahore last November.
In Karachi, however, golf officials managed to go a step ahead after the Pakistan Navy, one of the key stakeholders in Pakistan golf, threw its weight behind the project.
Backed by the Navy and its top officials including the Chief of Naval Staff as well as Commander Karachi, Bilal initiated the move to put Pakistan back on the international golfing map.
It all began after Comkar Admiral Athar Mukhtar, who is also KGC’s President, showed a keen interest in the idea of bringing the Asian Tour back to Pakistan. It was back in 2006 and 2007 when the KGC hosted back-to-back Asian Tour events but since then there has been no international event here mainly because of security reasons.
The idea was to make this year’s edition of the CNS Open – Pakistan’s richest golf tournament – an Asian Tour tournament.
But it was easier said than done.
There were too many hurdles. The first one was to convince the Asian Tour to put Pakistan back on its map. Then there was the Rs70-million-question as that’s the sort of money which is required to stage an Asian Tour event.
“But the good thing was that Navy was completely behind this idea. The support went right up till the Chief of Naval Staff and once that was guaranteed things began to fall into place,” Bilal said.
Buoyed up by Navy’s backing, Bilal discussed the matter with Taimur Hassan, the former Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) secretary who is currently the Vice Chairman of Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. Taimur, easily the most accomplished amateur golfer of Pakistan, enjoys an excellent rapport in international golf circles. Once he came on board, doors began to open.
“Though I am not associated with PGF anymore I’m always available for Pakistan,” Taimur told ‘The News on Sunday’. “Bilal is a dear friend but I’m in it mainly because I want to give back to Pakistan golf,” he added.
Taimur then met top Asian Tour officials in Singapore and urged them to include Pakistan on their programme. The campaign received a boost when the country successfully hosted an Asian Development Tour tournament in Lahore last November.
Recently, a three-member Asian Tour team visited Karachi for an inspection and found everything was in order for a full-fledged tournament at the picturesque KGC.
“They were satisfied with our plan and were impressed with the (KGC) course,” said Bilal, himself an avid golfer.
Commodore Ghazanfar Abbas, the chief operating officer of KGC, was confident that the lush-green KGC course will be in a perfect shape to play host to the Asian Tour event in July.
“The Club has been putting a lot of efforts in improving the course and I’m sure that by July it will be in perfect shape,” he said.
Taimur, too, hailed the KGC course. “It looks tremendous and I’m sure we will have a highly successful tournament in July,” he said.
However, there is one issue that needs to be tackled in the lead up to the CNS Open.
The fact that the organisers of the CNS Open opted to directly deal with the Asian Tour didn’t please PGF, the governing body of the game in the country.
Normally, an event of this magnitude is either staged by or with the support and backing of the PGF.
The decision of the CNS Open’s organizers to bypass the PGF could have landed the project in trouble but General Hilal Hussain, the PGF President, opted to take a wiser path.
My sources tell me that in a PGF meeting he did express his displeasure over the organizers decision to not keep the PGF in the loop. But later, he said that the federation would back the event in the greater interest of Pakistan golf.
It is really important that all stakeholders get together and make sure that Pakistan hosts the Asian Tour event successful. It’s very important for Pakistan golf which is still struggling to make its presence felt. It is also important for Pakistan sports as a major international golf tournament in its backyard will further strengthen the country’s status as a sporting destination.
Over the years a lack of ample finances and, perhaps more importantly, widespread security fears have dogged efforts to hold an Asian Tour event in the country.
Pakistan first became part of the Asian scene in 1989 when the Pakistan Open became part of the old Asian circuit. That event was won by Filipino star Frankie Minoza. Pakistan have produced only one Asian Tour winner in the past following Taimur Hussain’s success at the 1998 Myanmar Open.
The Pakistan Open was also a part of the Asian Tour in 2006 and 2007. The tournament was held at the Karachi Golf Club on both occasions and attracted several leading pros from the region as a part of a three-year deal. However, security concerns forced the cancellation of the 2008 edition.
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.
It remains to be seen as to which player will go on to win the top honours in the CNS Open in July. But one thing is for sure. It’s showtime for Pakistan golf.