Why local golf should stand with its caddies

Monday May 11 2020


By Robert Madoi

It felt like a back-to-the-future moment on Monday night when President Museveni extended Uganda’s coronavirus lockdown by a couple of weeks.

Going into the Presidential address, there had been measured optimism that a loosening of the lockdown would involve more than just giving carpenters the green light to resume work.

One of the Ugandans that came out of the address feeling shortchanged was Deo Akope. The well-decorated professional golfer told the sports website Kawowo Sports that golf, which is played on a large open-air course, should not be pigeonholed with other contact sports.

Take caddies out of the equation and, Akope added, you have yourself “a social distancing sport.”
The tenor of Akope’s line of thinking gives an indication of the ‘lockdown fatigue’ that has worn away the thin veneer of patience amongst athletes.

The 41-year-old golfer is also right in making a distinction between contact and non-contact sports.

Sadly for him, while the risk factors in either variant of sport are markedly different, all indications are that the two will not be decoupled. It is not clear that the implementation of a decoupling will have sufficient champions in the corridors of power any time soon.


Maybe it should. What is clear though is that the pandemic response requires toughness and a stomach for brutality.

Museveni’s military analogies during the 13 Covid-19 addresses have brought this out with clarity.
If a decoupling of sport gets us no closer to solving an existential threat, then no cast-iron guarantees will be offered.

Contact and non-contact sports will continue to be conflated.
So where does all of this leave Akope’s two cents?
The affable golfer’s thoughts are bound to produce uneven results.

When government starts to think about removing a heavy hand from the tiller of the lockdown, a decoupling of sport ought to take centre-stage. Non-contact sports should be eased back well ahead of their contact cousins.

In the event that restrictions are eased, non-contact sport athletes should guard against complacency.
Habits from the pre-Covid-19 age will have to be dropped (sharing handshakes and basking in the glory of bringing gasps from the gallery to mention but two for golf). There should be an acknowledgement that a series of small behavioural changes will add up to something much bigger.

The emphasis of physical safety has for instance moved Akope to contemplate playing without bagmen. This line of thinking is, however, handicapped (no pun intended) by serious flaws.

It stands in puzzling contrast to what the pandemic has taught us. We have learnt that community self-help puts individual self-interest in the shade. Covid-19 curves have flattened out because of the former; not latter.
If golf is to come out of the lockdown, it will have to do it with caddies part of the equation.

The hardships faced by bagmen in the coronavirus shutdown are unyielding.
Because Ugandan caddies are not paid a retainer wage, they tend to live from hand to mouth. There is pretty much no safety net.

Thankfully, a section of golf clubs in the country have chosen to stand with bagmen in their moment of need. Relief supplies were extended to caddies and artisan golfers attached to Uganda Golf Club and Entebbe Club.
This heartwarming gesture is refreshing. It should not, however, be a one-off. Caddies play an integral role in Ugandan golf.

They consequently should not be left to fall through the cracks. Even if this means that golf risks having the vestige of ‘contact’ (caddies come in close proximity with golfers they are working for). Community self-help trumps individual self-interest.