Professional golf is all about money in the professionals’ ranks but the health of Ugandan professional golf is severely handicapped due to inactivity and small sums.
That is why this weekend’s KCB PRO-AM tour final in Mombasa offers a welcome reprieve for Ugandan professional golfers. JAMES SSEKANDI assesses the state of professional golf.
Since the Uganda Professional Golf Open in late July, the pros had not got the opportunity to compete for big money. So, as Deo Akope leads Uganda’s six-man team in pursuit of a share of the Shs 52m prize money at stake, there will most likely be those who return home empty-handed in spite of spending big on the travel and accommodation.
Others on the team include Phillip Kasozi, Dennis Anguyo, Emmanuel Onito Opio, Vincent Byamukama and Herman Mutaawe. Professional golf can be unforgiving and ordinarily, prize money is reserved for only the top 10 performers.
The Uganda Professional Golf Association (UPGA) was founded nine years ago with a great deal of promise but its doors have not quite been open for business, with tournaments few and far in-between.
The few that see the light of day set aside meager prize money as little as Shs 5m to be split between more than 20 golfers. Those at the tail end of the chain basically take home crumbs.
In that regard, there is more to be done. A public-facing role, for one, which impresses upon corporate companies to bankroll UPGA events, will probably be adequate for a sport that seems exclusive.
“We meet acceptable standards so that the corporate world is satisfied to cement any partnership,” says Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the Uganda Golf Union (UGU) president. “It is an uphill journey but success can only come with hard work and attentiveness on our part.”
UPGA has 25 members and the body is mandated to promote golf at a professional level and try to tap into the lucrative international golf circuits like the SunShine tour, Big Easy tour and, at a bare minimum, the KCB Golf circuit.
“The problems that plague us are mainly the winnings or prize money that is still very low to attract big numbers,” Samuel Sejjaaka, the UPGA chairman acknowledged.
The only competition with an attractive prize draw is the Ugandan Professional Open. The 2015 edition had a Shs 100m bounty. However, the UPGA has no specific calendar of events to follow and the other tournaments depend largely on the sponsors’ budget.
“The way sponsorship is sourced needs to be rewarding because this is a professional and business-orientated complex,” said Mutaawe.
UPGA captain Akope agrees: “Lack of sponsorship is affecting the standards of professional golf in this country; we need many sponsors that support more tournaments and of course there are not enough programmes that encourage youth to take up the sport.”
Professional golfer Deo Akope
Every year, UPGA tales in new recruits from amateur ranks. The winner of the Uganda Amateur Open automatically qualifiers but there is also special qualifier competitions. However, this year’s amateur champion Ronald Otile, who remarkably went on to win the professional event, has declined to move into the paid ranks.
“I am not about to turn pro,” the senior six vacationist from Mpanga SS said without mincing words. “There are so many things I still need to learn.”
Right now, it is clear one cannot live a career as a pro golfer given the low financial rewards. “I cannot say I’m living on golf all alone because I have others things which I am doing to make ends meet,” Akope says.
Indeed, UPGA is not just looking on. Last year, the body created a trust fund, with income from membership fee and a deduction of 10 per cent from prize money. This is aimed at providing loans and also support in times of grief.