It is a little peculiar that a number of successes were registered in Uganda’s golf but it did not yield the loudest of noise in 2019 across the sports living room.
Certainly, the nation reaped a bountiful of growth at both men and women’s golf fronts on the local, continental and global scene.
Junior World Cup debut
Perhaps, we begin with the global delight. Uganda Golf Union’s (UGU) deliberate efforts to grow the game at grass-root level reaped fruits in March when the junior men’s side led by captain Joel Basalaine overturned a six-shot deficit to pip Morocco by four strokes and finish second on the Africa stage in Botswana for a ticket to the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup.
Coach Stephen Kasaija had less than three months to prepare for the Japan show, and to be honest one would have asked for a lot from debutants Basalaine, Michael Alunga, Denis Asaba and Ibrahim Aliga at Chukyo Golf Club in Toyota City. In the end, Uganda could not avoid the wooden spoon on the very fast greens but there were lessons picked for junior golf development boss Oscar Semawere.
Uganda rules East Africa
And yet, Uganda had already picked up the winning vibe. With a bunch of decent amateurs crossing to the professional ranks, Fort Portal-bred Joseph Cwinyaai ended up being named senior men’s national team captain. He is a man-filled with luck, Why? The 23-year-old played solid and led the unit comprising of Daniel Baguma, Godfrey Nsubuga and Rodell Gaita to cap a successful title defence of the Africa Region IV Championship at Bujumbura Golf Club in Burundi in early June.
Here, Uganda defeated nemesis Kenya by a margin of 1.5 points and when the two teams met again at Uganda Golf Club (UGC) in Kitante, Cwinyaai and company repeated the act to win the Victoria Cup for the first time. Since 2016 at Muthaiga in Nairobi, this championship referred to as East Africa’s Ryder Cup had eluded Uganda but at Kitante, Gaita, Asaba, Emmanuel Jakisa and Alunga won their singles’ rounds on Day Three to give Uganda a two-point victory on June 29.
Cwinyaai on fire
With that national team success in Bujumbura and Kitante, Cwinyaai just turned on the mojo for the rest of the year. He showed that he can walk in the footsteps of his peers like US-based trio of Ronald Otile, Baguma and Titus Okwong by capping a perfect individual year.
Cwinyaai took up the local favourite’s tag as the 78th Castle Lite Uganda Amateurs Open approached. Why? Weeks prior, he had fired 10 birdies in a bogey-free round of 60 in company of club pro Happy Robert and Phelix Ruyonga on August 9 to shatter the Tooro Club course record.
The previous record was at 61, jointly-held by Otile, Adolf Muhumuza and Ronald Rugumayo.
However, like many other locals, Cwinyaai was challenged by unfamiliarity with the fast greens at the Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa course in Kigo during the Open. Regardless, Cwinyaai came out as the best Ugandan in fourth place with an aggregate score of 293 gross after 72 holes in Kigo. Daniel Nduva won by a shot with 286 gross and he became the first non-Ugandan to win the Open since Nicholas Rokoine in 2007.
Nduva led a rare Kenya 1-2-3 in company of Simon Njogu and Samuel Njoroge whereas fire-fighting Otile and Asaba tied in fifth place on September 7. Nduva would return to the par-72 Kigo course to win the amateur leg of the Pam Golding Safari Open with a 13-shot margin on November 8.
Cwinyaai’s fire did not stop though. He finished the year on handicap +1 and now contemplates a professional career after winning the Tooro Open during the Uganda Golf Tour, Kakira Open, Mayombo Open, Entebbe Open and Kinyara Open trophies. To be honest, no male player did better than him in 2019 and much credit to his sponsor Isaac Aisu.
Babirye betters Nakalembe
Whereas Cwinyaai was a class apart, the ladies’ stage was closely edged by Martha Babirye. Irene Nakalembe will take consolation as second best.
Babirye maintained her favourites tag to win the country’s most coveted ladies’ event - the 69th Castle Lite Uganda Ladies Open in late August at Kigo.
A week after winning the UGC Ladies Open at Kitante, Babirye picked up a six-shot Day One lead and when heavy downpour came on Day Three, she did just enough to hold off an experienced chasing pack of Nakalembe, Tanzanians Angel Eaton, Hawa Wanyeche and Iddi Madina to win her maiden Open title by a stroke with 242 gross.
Nakalembe finished a shot behind her in second. Earlier, in the year, Nakalembe had beaten Babirye by a shot to win a record fifth Entebbe Ladies Open title in March. As Peace Kabasweka won the Tanzania Ladies Open, Nakalembe came second in Moshi. Whereas Madina was in her own individual class as Tanzania won the East & Central All-Africa Challenge Trophy (ECAACT), Nakalembe came second while Babirye was third but Uganda was second out of three countries at Entebbe in late October.
Nakalembe proved unstoppable in November as she went out to West Africa to claim the titles at the Nigeria Ladies Open in Abuja and the Ikoyi Ladies Championship in Lagos. During the ECAACT, outgoing Uganda Ladies Golf Union president Eva Magala was elected as AACT Trustee for East & Central Africa, replacing Zambian Moono Mwila.
Kasozi stands out
The golf leaderships of Uganda and Kenya sat and resolved in 2018 that Uganda would add events to the growing Safari Tour Series, a road map to the PGA European Tour via the Magical Kenya Open.
It is through this channel that Phillip Kasozi managed to become the first Ugandan to ever feature on the European Tour last March during the Kenya Open at Karen Country Club. He still rues the one bad decision on Hole No.6 on Day One that catapulted his score to an aggregate +6 after two rounds, consequently missing the cut.
Now during the 2019-2020 Safari Series, UGU included the Uganda Open and Safari Open in Kigo, the Entebbe Open and the 2020 Kitante Open onto the Series. Kasozi is the only Ugandan to score Series points on all fronts at home, amounting to 125.5 points in 12th place after five legs. He was the best Ugandan of the five (two amateurs) who made the cut when he tied in 13th place on 293 after four rounds as Zambian Muthiya Madalisto won the 14th Uganda Pros’ Open.
West Nile conquer Open Tour
One of the highlights for amateur golf beyond the local club events was UGU’s innovation to create a build-up for the Open with the new Uganda Golf Tour in partnership with Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) and Nile Breweries brand Castle Lite. Before the junior team went to Japan, UGU announced a collative Shs150m partnership with UTB and on the Tour, West Nile Club emerged as overall winners with 299 points from nine legs with victories in Mbale, Namulonge and their own in Arua.