Main takeaways from Magical Kenya golf fete

Guido Micliozzi TeeOff during Magical Kenya Open 2019 at Karen Country Club on Sunday, March 17, 2019. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]
The winner of this year’s Magical Kenya Open that was part of European tour was a 22-year-old Guido Migliozzi from Italy.

His age was more significant than his win. What are our 22-year-olds doing?

Successful golfers tend to be young. The average age of the top 10 finishers in three top golf tournaments is telling.

For the Magical Kenya Open, it was 27 years. For US Masters Tournament last year, it was around 31 years. It is the same average age for Qatar Masters. The average age for the top 10 ranked PGA golfers - the organiser of the main professional golf tours played by men in the US and North America is 29.4 years. The top players in the English Premier League, Kenya’s leading addiction are very young. This is common in sports where the window of opportunity closes fast. In athletics, one makes money in the 20s and 30s before the next generation takes over. The window closes permanently. In sports, striking when the iron is hot makes a lot of economic sense.

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The win by the 22-year-old is a wakeup call. Suppose a Kenyan youth won this money? A whopping Sh20.5 million? The win shows investing in sports has high returns. Ask athletes who have won major world races.

Accredited stadiums

Kamau Mutunga from our sister publication, The Nairobian, made an interesting observation on golf: “We have more golf courses (over 40, including Ndumberi) than the Fifa accredited stadiums - which are only two - Kasarani and Nyayo.

Yet, golf is not a mass spectator sport like soccer.  He goes on: “The winning golfer at the Kenya Open pocketed Sh20.5 million (after four days). But the team that wins the Kenya Premier League takes home Sh4.5 million to be shared out among 23 players and about 10 officials and sidekicks (after 38 bruising matches-and injuries- in 365 days!)” he concludes, “Does this make economic sense?”

It may not, but that is the reality. We have failed to invest in youth and sports. They direct that energy elsewhere. We then complain they are jailed, join gangs or drown in alcoholism or drugs.  But how attractive is the sports market if we are to invest in it? How efficient is it? Does supply match demand for sportsmen? Does it behave like the Silicon Valley where innovators and funders are easily matched? Young and innovative graduates from Californian universities like California Institute of Technology - the counterweight to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, easily get sponsors for their idea.

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The sponsors include venture capitalists and existing firms with few patents. The innovation ecology espoused by Silicon Valley makes matching easy through research collaboration.

Poor backgrounds

What of Kenyan sports?

Young talented sportsmen and women seem to come disproportionately from poor backgrounds. Ever heard of a marathoner born and brought up in Karen or Runda?

The best place to identify such talent is in schools. But what happens when students talented in sports leave school? Most are forgotten. The private coaching industry is too small to discover a huge pool of talent.

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For every Wanyama, how many better footballers are rotting somewhere? For every golfer like Simon Ngige, how many others will never be discovered? The market might not discover such talents because the returns may not be immediate or big enough.

The market for golf might be too small to be efficient.

The athletics market is not that efficient too, with the disciplined forces taking the lion’s share of the awards.

Unfortunately, we have neglected other sports with soccer by taking too much airtime. Other sports probably have less money or are not well marketed.

When markets fail, the Government through regulators fill the void. That is why county and national government should come in and provide facilities for sports and sponsor tournaments. Few kids in Eastlands, no matter how talented they are, will make their way to members-only golf courses.

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Will their families buy food or clubs?  What of golf academies? Lots of schools have enough land for small golf courses even if its par 30. Can we set a target of having a Kenyan win European tour tournament next year?

The fact that youngsters from Africa do so well in European football leagues shows that investment in sports will pay off.  Suppose all the money lost in corruption was used to build stadiums or golf courses?

Will competence-based curriculum finally develop our sportsmen and women to global standards? Shall we have golf teachers in some schools? Will sports careers become as lucrative as medicine or law?

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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Magical Kenya OpenGuido MigliozziGolf