When you mention Uganda’s trademark sports, boxing and athletics come up.
The two disciplines have landed the country seven Olympic medals, latest being Stephen Kiprotich’s marathon gold in London nearly four years ago.
But there are those sports that Ugandans are most familiar with. And just like the global audience, football leads the way here.
It is that common sport whose technical aspects are easily understood by the young and old, men and women.
With the power of television and ever-growing sports betting business eating up several minds of the youth, the fascination of football has become part of many Ugandans’ lives.
But there are several other disciplines that are played in Uganda. Golf is one of them. This is where a player uses various clubs to hit balls into a series of holes on a designed course in as few strokes as possible.
However, this game of swing is not so common to Ugandans. “I am not so conversant with golf,” says a city motorcyclist who preferred anonymity.
Perhaps, that is a voice that represents many. Let us break it down a bit. Is golf difficult to understand, tedious to play or it goes down to lack of interest?
“All of them,” with the voice beaming out of his helmet amid the swaying winds, he continues to tell this reporter as he rides along Acacia Avenue, just past the famous Uganda Golf Club (UGC) at Kitante.
“I have never played it. I just see people swinging clubs and moving all over.”
“Ogwo omuzanyo gwa ssente ate nze sizirina,” he adds in the local dialect, loosely translated as ‘golf is for the rich. I am not rich.’
For one to play golf, one needs equipment where a full kit composed of clubs, balls, tees and bag could go for at least $150 (Shs500,000).
Further, any golfer must fully pay up membership fees, which in turn may be used to maintain and improve that particular course they are affiliated to.
However, one could argue that this man, probably in his early 30s’, was never exposed to the sport and that is what informs the cluelessness.
But there are those lucky ones who have learnt the game. “I learnt golf in Fort Portal because while I was young, we would go to pick balls at the Tooro Club and eventually, I began playing,” said reigning Uganda Open champion Ronald Otile.
Like Otile, many have come to associate with golf simply due to their proximity with different courses around the country.
“As a young man, I used to do boxing in Kilembe Mines. But when I lost my tooth, I opted to go nearby and play golf in 1971,” Aslam Khan, now a philanthropist, recalls how he started.
Khan, 66, splits his time between Indiana state in USA and Uganda where he monitors his charity projects at Mwira Hospital in Iganga District.
Besides the lot of Otile and Khan, there is now a class of people who dominate golf: the corporates.
Almost every Saturday, company flyers are raised allover and a buzz is created as scores of ladies and gentlemen move along with caddies at Kitante.
Among those are CEOs’, corporate affairs’ managers, managing directors and top honchos from the biggest corporate entities you can think of in the land.
So, what explains this new wave? “It is a good opportunity for business networking. It also offers the corporates an opportunity for relaxation from office or work pressures,” said Johnson Omolo, head of sales at NTV Uganda.
Interestingly, Omolo’s father Alex Opendi was the first black man to play golf at Kilembe Mines Golf Club before a long haul within the national team ranks from the 1970s’ to 1982.
“My dad is partly the other reason why I joined golf,” Omolo said. So many other sons and daughters of the corporates have been introduced to the game in this similar manner.
That is how Peter Mujuni landed into this sport. His father Steven Katwiremu has been in the game since 1987.
On September 3, 2014, the 57-year-old Katwiremu showed ‘old is gold’ during the Uganda Open by sinking a hole-in-one on the 129-yard long par 3, hole No.4 using a Mizuno Iron 8 and yellow pinnacle No.4 ball. He was in the company of UGC members Fabian Rwalinda, Nemanja Kostic and Entebbe’s Patrick Mwaka.
“I play golf to exercise my body and also network with other people,” says Mujuni, who also falls under Omolo’s department at NTV.
Recently, Omolo was elected as new Uganda Golf Union (UGU) president last December, replacing lawyer Kiryowa Kiwanuka. Before Kiwanuka, property mogul Amos Nzeyi was boss.
From this, it is clear that golf business is run by the corporate gurus. Doesn’t it leave those without white collar jobs and within the different courses’ vicinity disadvantaged?
“Golf is like any other sport which can be played by anyone with talent and passion,” Aslam notes while watching a bunch of golfers putt at hole No.18 at Jinja course on one chilly Saturday afternoon.
Is golf a game that will be played by only rich people? “Many people think golf is a game for the rich but it is a game for all,” Omolo stressed.
“The game is affordable and we call upon all able men and women to subscribe and join this great game that keeps one fit and healthy. A day’s game is equivalent to close to a 6-7km walk on the course.”
So, can one really play when he or she is not a corporate? “Yes,” Omolo says, “majority of the golfers in Uganda are individual members and not necessarily sponsored by their employer to play golf as a staff of an organisation in a group. Corporate membership is where an employer sponsors/pays membership for a group of people they employ.”
Tips for golfing
• Pick your partners wisely. You want to play with decision-makers, not the golfers who can shoot the lowest scores.
• Play to your ability
It is the most common question: to win, or not to win. The answer is: play to your ability, fair and square. Gauge the personality of your partner and determine how intense he or she is about the game. If you decide to play a match, use the handicap system to establish even ground. An intentional “tank job” can be insulting to a potential client. But a flagrant sandbagging can be even worse.
• Patience is a virtue
Do not discuss business before the 5th hole or after the 15th hole. Like golf itself, you are in this for the long haul.
• Know thy partner
Treat people as they want to be treated. Pay attention to the personality. If your playing partner is solemn and serious, act accordingly. The same goes if he is a garrulous goofball. Remember: though the course isn’t a stage, you are still performing. Just as you get to see people in an informal setting, they get to see you too.