Last Friday, Lahore’s vastly-experienced professional Matloob Ahmed recorded a sizzling round of 66 in the opening round of the Chevron-DHA Karachi Cup All Pakistan Open Golf Championship at the wind-swept course of the Defence Authority Country and Golf Club in Karachi. Along with Matloob, the leading contenders for the title, which will be decided on Sunday (today), were Pakistan No. 1 Shabbir Iqbal and Muhammad Munir. Incidentally, all three of them are in their forties.
For years, experienced players like Shabbir have been dominating the national circuit as it’s rare to see a youngster winning any worthwhile professional title in Pakistan.
“It’s a big cause of concern for us,” Lt General Hilal Hussain, President Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF), told ‘The News on Sunday’ in an interview. “Without taking anything away from players like Shabbir, who is a top-notch professional, I must say that Pakistan golf desperately needs young blood,” he added.
Since his election as PGF chief last year, General Hilal and his team has been working on a war footing to achieve that as well as other goals in a bid to put Pakistan golf on the right track.
It was after taking a long, hard look that General Hilal decided it was time for Pakistan golf to change it course.
In the last few months, PGF has taken a series of steps aimed at devising a fully functional system that can ensure rapid progress for Pakistan golf.
In the interview with TNS, General Hilal spoke about a variety of issues, which included changes in the existing system and his plans to lift junior golf in the country.
“We have changed the Q-School model. We have implemented this new model after developing a consensus,” he said.
PGF decided to make changes to the professionals’ circuit after General Hilal and other senior officials of the federation met with a big group of professionals in Lahore in March.
“It was at the Punjab Open that we sat down with the professionals. It turned out to be a useful interaction as we received a lot of positive feedback from the players,” he said.
“The professionals told us that it was for the first time that their input was taken by the PGF,” he added.
“We have initiated a Development Tour. That’s because the bulk of the prize money at offer on our professional circuit goes to the leading professionals. Our second tier players find it next to impossible to earn their bread and butter through golf. The idea behind the Development Tour is to provide an opportunity to these players to win their share from the prize money. Our plan is to have at least ten million rupees on offer in our Development Tour tournaments annually.”
Another issue apart from raising the quality of professional golf in the country, that is close to the PGF chief’s heart is a junior development programme.
General Hilal has instructed senior PGF officials to focus on the youth by supporting existing young players and attracting new ones.
“My emphasis is on the youngsters. We have started distributing golf sets to youngsters. The idea is to broaden the pool by imparting basic training to young boys and girls.”
Also on his agenda is the promotion of ladies’ golf.
“We have to encourage our ladies,” he said. “Things are already getting better for them as one witnessed at the PGF Ladies Championship in Lahore, where a record number of players participated.”
The General has ambitious plans for the future, which include setting up of a brand new national golf academy and to produce world class players for Pakistan.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for PGF is funds.
However, instead of looking towards the government, PGF is planning to attract sponsorship.
“We are making endeavours to enhance our financial resources because the federation will need ample funds to carry out our future plans.
“We are targeting all avenues and that include our big business corporations.
“One of the biggest hurdles facing Pakistan golf is lack of funds. Golf is an expensive sport. There are many expenses involved that’s why we need the private sector to pump in money. I’m sure that with such support, Pakistan golf will really make progress because our golfers have great potential.”
General Hilal stressed that he will leave no stone unturned in his bid to lift Pakistan golf.
“My approach is to reach out and be inclusive. There will be no compromise when it comes to developing this sport.
“We are also seeking support from international bodies like the Royal and Ancient (R&A). We have written to them regarding their help in infra-structure and coaching. I will be going to Britain to meet R&A officials and hopefully something good will come out of it.”
The PGF President is confident that things are moving in the right direction.
“In the past, the case of Pakistan golf wasn’t presented properly. There wasn’t much progress because of a variety of reasons that included lack of planning and ego issues,” he said.
“But all those issues are now a thing of the past. My motto is to promote Pakistan golf in an untiring manner. We are in the process of devising a system that can make it an attractive sport for our youngsters. We have to package Pakistan golf in a way that it can attract sponsorship from big corporations. We have to establish golf academies. It’s a big challenge but I’m positive because things are moving in the right direction.
“We are starting to see positive results and once we take the much-needed steps things will add up to ensure a bright future for Pakistan golf.”