Leading Ugandan golfer Deogratius Akore has been a mainstay on the local sports scene. A captain of the Uganda Professional Golfers Association (UPGA), Akope this month won the Uganda Open. He shared his life story with Simon Kasyate on 91.3 Capital FM’s Desert Island Discs.
Good evening, Deo, and welcome to Desert Island Discs
Good evening Simon and, of course, like I said, I am Deogratious in full but most people refer to me as Deo. I am Catholic.
Tell us about yourself and what you do in the sport golf, that is.
Well, Simon, I think it is a bad perception that golf is a rich man’s game. If you look at the people playing golf now, they are basically young people who I do not think are that rich. You are calling me a rich man but I am not a rich man. I am just happy to be where I am and enjoying the game.
Of course, Deo, we know that you are a professional golfer. You have won a couple of cups. You have acquired several accolades to your name. You may wish to bring us to speed as to the achievements you have had in the game of golf.
First and foremost, one memorable event or achievement that I can’t forget my entire life is when I won the Uganda Open. I was an amateur in 2010. It was a very interesting round because Steven Birungi ‘Tiger Woods’, as he was called… . Actually how the Tiger Woods game came is that the late Sadi Onito had dominated golf and when the young [crop] came, Steven Birungi was the first guy to stop his run.
Actually the late was meant to win his fourth in the row again in 1997 so, Birungi won in 1997 and went ahead to defend it in 1998 and 1999. So in 2000, I was still in vacation of senior six and I was favorite to win but when I started, I do not know whether it was pressure of the open but I didn’t do well. So I had a slow start and for some reason my game couldn’t pick up after the first two rounds.
But somehow in the third round I managed to stick close and brought in what we call the pressure group, that is, the best for players who play off last. One thing I like a lot about Ugandans is that they love watching and supporting the game so, there were a lot of people at the golf course.
Under a lot of pressure, I somehow I entered the course knowing I had been defeated by Birungi who had won the open three times. So, I went to enjoy myself but, while enjoying myself, I played a very incredible score and I remember I equalled the score that had been there for over 20 years and after nine holes I was leading by five shots.
I can assure you I partied every time I was on the green. To cut the long story short, I won the open and equalled the course score that time. I also went on to win it three times in a row.
Let me take you back in your life. Who are you? Where were you born and to whom were you born?
Deo Akope, first of all, is a Muteso like the Baganda call [us]. But I am an Itesot. I come from Kumi. My late dad was called Ekeredde Augustine. My mum is still alive. [She is] called Seku Anna. I was born in 1978 and my birthday is just after independence.
I went to School in Kumi from nursery to primary three then moved to Entebbe. My uncle was a flight technician in Entebbe next to state lodge during Obote’s time. It’s where the big boys used to live.
Are you the only child?
No. We are actually two, with my younger brother. He is Kampala working for Smile Telecom. He is in called Okwakol John Francis. He loves following my golf and supports me.
Plays Neera by radio and Weasel
Which schools did you attend?
I went to Airforce primary school all the way to primary seven then moved to Entebbe SS for my O-level and partly HSC, that was senior five, then moved to Mackay College in Nateete.
What was your ambition then?
I wanted to be an engineer but unfortunately I ended up doing Economics instead of Chemistry.
Deo, you are a sports man in you own way. What kind of sports did you play at school?
I loved football just like every guy but, unfortunately, when I got to secondary, because of my language barrier in Luganda, they left me behind so I ended up not liking the game. By the time I was in secondary, I was in the golf fraternity but not competing.
When was your first interface with golf and how did it feel?
I might not recall the actual year but I think 1994 when I was in State lodge. I met people, one of them who as good as a brother, that is Maurice Ongwench – he works for British Airways now – and Ronald.
Those two were brothers and I think those two have stayed in the game. Today they might not be professionals but they play actually their younger brothers are professionals.
Were these guys already playing golf by the time you met them?
They were not playing golf but they had an attachment to the club and the golf itself so, we used to play as kids in groups. You know what we call “ebinazi” in Luganda? When we looked at the golf club, we said, ‘if we shape cassava sticks, we shall get clubs and if we used the ebinazi, we shall get balls. So in the evenings when the actual golfers were gone, we would dig some holes and use our cassava sticks and play after school.
The group grew and someone picked a golf club and another a ball so, we would change and play it. So, imagine a group of eight kids using one club that is broken and tied onto a cassava stick.
So, Kidega and Maurice were good friends to Paul Bwisi and Paul Bwisi had kids [the Peytons] but they never liked golf, they play basketball and somehow they took me around and we started hacking around and somehow I started getting into the club on the weekend and started carding around. The first person I worked for was the late Tumusiime Edward and the one I played as a caddie.
I never slept preparing for that game. I even came with a red ribbon on my head and he gave me seven clubs. I remember when I first hit my “T” shot, he called me and then he told me, ‘there is something in you’ and he said, ‘go back play and we shall talk later.’ When I finished, Mr Tumusiime told me, ‘education first then when you get time come and play because you are good at it.’
It’s without a doubt that you were exposed to the game of golf either by chance or by luck but you were as well pursuing an academic career. How were you able to balance between the game of golf and the demands of your academic pursuits?
Coming from a humble background gave me a little bit of focus. I knew I loved golf as a sport, it was in my heart, but, like I said, having people around you all the time talking to you was also another thing. Mr Edward Tumusiime, for some reason, was like a dad to me. He actually gave me a path.
When did your dad die?
My dad actually passed on when I was joining senior one so, you can imagine. And my uncle died when I was in senior two and I am only left with my mum who isn’t even living with me but she was trying wherever she was at that time.
So I would sit down and say, ‘Deo, this is the situation you are in. You are only left with your mum who might not be able to push you till a certain level of your education.’ So, I really had to focus.
Mr Tumusiime helped me a lot, and another important factor I always had in my life is discipline. People call me a star but it never gets in my head so, that has helped me even in my golf career.
Of course growing up as a young man gets you props especially in the game of golf. You get admirers, both male and female, but for the female we are looking at admiration in a different sense.
Some people will admire you to the extent that they want you to date them did you ever get these offers throwing themselves at you as a young man?
Simon, the truth is I don’t think I thought about females till my senior six. It was my golf clubs and books.
Where did you go after Mackay Senior Secondary School?
I went to Kyambogo. I would have loved to go to Makerere but talking about engineering like I wanted, someone sat me down and said ‘Makerere is a good university but when it comes to being practical, Kyambogo is the place.’
So, what engineering did you do?
I did civil engineering. I had the love for road construction. Many people know how much they helped me as well. Mr Emmanuel Mugamba he is with the JBG engineers, the German firm which took me up when I joined Kyambogo.
I did training with Gulf engineers for one year and I remember we did some work on the Soroti-Jinja road but after one year, I was supposed to be posted somewhere upcountry in Karamoja.
They said, ‘if you don’t want Karamoja, we have another project in Ggaba.’ But I was still playing golf. So while I was waiting, we went to play golf in Nairobi, Tanzania and Rwanda.
Plays Chris brown
Were you still able to play while at Kyambogo University?
Yes, I would. Luckily, Kyambogo wasn’t far from the golf club and, by then, we had a Kenyan captain called Daniel Kagwe who supported the young guys.
Remember, joining the golf club was not also easy because of the membership so, some corporates decided to absorb us in. I remember back then, it was Multiple Industries, some guy called Bob Bahrain he supported golf a lot to date.
At what point do you meet you wonderful wife?
This is a very interesting story. You can’t believe that everything has happened in the greens of golf. I can assure you this is a true story (laughs) and this true story dates back to 1996 after my senior six and I was playing. As I was approaching hole eight, that was in Entebbe, I can assure you my heart skipped.
I don’t know why I am still alive to this date (laughs) but when I saw this beautiful lady standing up in the club house, I froze. When I saw her after three, partying, I rushed to the club house to find out, ‘Who is she? Where is she from?’ I remember I had a female friend working in the bar so, I asked her, “Who is she?’ Then she told me this girl is just joining Nkumba University.
I was scared. So I planned [and] then when I met her, I asked for her name and she was Sylvia. I didn’t even want to know her other name that was just enough. So we started talking. We met and developed from there and we are blessed with two children.
If you were marooned on a desert island and you were given an opportunity to take one person or thing with you, what or who would it be?
Plays Gyobeera by Irene Ntale
Source : The Observer