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Does golf epitomise Kenya’s new and bold tomorrow?

By X N Iraki | January 12th 2016

Tiger Woods popularised golf to non golfers. He is slowly getting off the radar. Like all other games, performance in golf rises with age, reaches an apogee and then declines.

The handicap is the best measure of your performance. Handicaps start from 36 for women and 28 for men. A handicap 2 is ‘better’ than handicap 25. ‘Better’ for bragging rights, because the handicap allows two golfers of different capabilities to compete.

Enough has been written about golf, from costs, addiction, and health benefits. Could golf, its rules, regulation and culture serve as a benchmark for new Kenya?

We have observed in the past that golf should be the leading game in Kenya because of sunshine. You can play golf everyday for 365 days with no winters to force you off the course for months. Yet, since independence, the number of courses has remained stagnant, only rising in the last few years, mostly through private efforts.

In other countries, lots of golf courses are owned by municipal authorities. Why can’t counties with vast amounts of land make golf their next attraction? It has been suggested that the number of golf course per person is a proxy measure of national affluence.

Why does golf epitomise Kenya’s new future?

The leading national problem in Kenya is corruption. We can learn not to be corrupt from golf. In a game of golf, there is no referee; you referee each other mostly in groups of four and record each others’ scores. Cheating in golf despite the incentives to win prizes is a serious offense. The shame is too high to bear, and usually spreads like bushfire to other clubs. If you are not suspended from the club, you find golfers players shunning you.

Why can’t we do the same in workplaces? Can’t we self regulate ourselves and ensure that those who engage in corruption are shamed and shunned? It seems some very complex problems have very simple problems. If the golf approach is applied in corporate and public sectors, we could start talking about Kenya’s bold tomorrow.

Diversity is what makes golf a conveyor belt to Kenya’s new bold future. In the golf course your race, tribe, colour and gender rarely matter. A few golfers usually play together regularly to cut deals and in whispers -bet. Golfers respect you because of your performance on the course. In every competition the winners are called out and rewarded.

Kenya should become like a golf course. But we are yet to cut off the umbilical cords that tie us to our ethnic groups. Playing golf with different people, helps you build new alliances, understand our weaknesses and strengths and helps you appreciate others. Such diversity ensures that golf get new blood, and the spirit of the game never dies.

Some will quickly add that this diversity is tolerated because golfers are very homogeneous economically. Ever seen anyone carrying a golf kit in a matatu? In Kenya, golf is still a mysterious game that needs demystification. Can we start learning the game in primary schools?

Meritocracy is the pedestal on which golf is build. You cannot rig the results and like athletics, we give you all the time to hit the ball, with the club you want and the way you want. Suppose we build the public and private sectors on meritocracy, so that you reward the best performers?

Golf is also about self reliance and patience. Golfers pay to maintain the golf courses, never waiting for the government or sponsors. In golf you take responsibility for your success and failure. If we reduced dependency in this country and we became more patient, a bold future would be attained faster. And in golf, there are no short cuts; you must play the 18 holes, walking in about 4 hours for about 6km.

Symbiosis drives golf; the golfers assist caddies to get their daily bread. Golfers play on one course, just as we live in one country. Each golfer realises that the course is for everyone. Do we realise how much we depend on each other to make our ends meet, including getting rich? We often think we are what we are because we work harder than others, not because we stand on the shoulders of other giants.

Golf closely mirrors our lives, we are born, grow up and age. Golfers appreciate that cycle when they realise they cannot hit the ball as far as they used to or their handicaps starts rising again. Do we really accept life and its inevitable cycles? If we did, we would probably be less corrupt, more helpful to others and more caring to the environment. Golfers and their caddies carry soil in small bags to fill up divots (holes dug by clubs while hitting the ball on grass). Do we take up responsibility for our mistakes or do we prefer to blame others including evil spirits?

Natural grass

The fact that golf is played on natural grass (kikuyu grass most popular), shows that life would be better off if we were more natural, loving and caring each other and accepting our own mortality. We spend too much time in a make belief world; the reality only emerges when we age or jolted by reality.

Finally golfers have elaborate succession plans, with captains, chairmen, golf committees all elected... That is why some golf clubs have such longevity. St. Andrews golf course in Scotland was established 1574. Kenya’s oldest golf course is Nairobi Royal, established in 1906. We try to do the same by voting for our leaders, but often violently.

If we can learn from golf, we could make this country, a greater nation. May be golf can bridge the gap between the political opponents. Imagine a game between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga? Or between the two Rutos? It seems the road to Kenya’s new and bold tomorrow might not be paved in concrete, but natural grass as in golf.

Finally, can I show off my handicap 12? And did I hear that two leading schools in Kenya, Lenana and Nairobi Schools once had golf courses, later turned into cattle paddocks?

—The writer is senior lecturer, University of Nairobi School of Business. [email protected]

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