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SAD TALES, PAUCITY OF PRO EVENTS HALLMARK 2010 GOLF SEASON

By NBF News
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A litany of odd tales oozed out of the Nigerian circuit in the 2010 season, on which curtain falls today. This ranges from the dearth of fat purse tourneys for professionals, untimely death of two of the country's finest players, of Nigeria's 'Father of Golf' and a pathetic turnover of one tournament per month. Generally, the season had little cheerful news to offer, especially with the country's lackluster outing at international amateur events. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY recounts some of the major events that characterised the outgoing year.

BY far the saddest moment for golf in Nigeria in the outgoing 2010 was the passing on of the Honorary Life President of Professional Golfers Association of Nigeria (PGAN) and the acclaimed Father of Golf in Nigeria, Anthony Eromosele Enahoro, early this month.

This was barely eight months after the sad loss of Nigeria's then number one-rated golfer, Ali Abdullahi, his predecessor, Christian Godfrey, and a caddie simply identified as Bernard in an auto crash.

After golf was introduced into the country by the colonialists, Enahoro not only inspired amateur players, he facilitated the establishment of the professional circuit in the country in 1969. This he did by being instrumental to the Nigeria Tobacco Company (NTC) sponsorship of four caddies – Jamiu Oyebajo, Patrick Okpomu, Emmanuel Lawrence and Festus Majekodunmi – abroad for professional training. The four were picked after they put up sterling performances in the first all-caddies tourney at Ikoyi Club 1938. These strides, perhaps, explains why the PGAN described his death at the age of 87 as a rude shock.

Oyebajo said: 'We received with shock the death of Chief Anthony Enahoro, an elder statesman and father of golf in Nigeria. He had a great influence and contributed immensely to the development of the game of golf in the country. As a body, we are going to miss him dearly because he was our Honorary Life President. Personally, I will miss him because of the contribution he made to my becoming a professional golfer.'

If Enahoro's death at the ripe age of 87 shocked the PGAN, the demise of their members along Suleja-Minna Road en route to Minna, Niger State, to honour the 2010 Minna Cantonment Open in their prime literally shattered the group.

Until his death, Abdullahi was the leader of the PGAN Order of Merit and only won the 15th Moanda Open Golf Championship in Gabon, and an international championship, the Open International du Cinquantenaire de l'Independence, shortly before his death. The tourney was staged as one of the activities to mark that country's 50th Independence anniversary.

Godfrey, who ended the 2009 season as the PGAN Order of Merit leader, had a great time last year as he not only erased a 12-year course record of the IBB International Golf and Country Club, Abuja, held by an Argentine, but also set the course record for the Ibom Golf Club, Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort during the 2009 President Cup.

What turned out to be a sad year for the Nigerian golf circuit, especially those playing professionally, actually began on a celebratory note. In January, it was a double-pronged event as the PGAN staged a reunion cum championship as part of activities to mark its 40 years of existence.

Aptly tagged 'PGAN at Forty Championship,' the event which, apart from being the season opener, also doubled as the Tour Card qualifier for the players and was used by the PGAN in ranking the players for the season.

One thing that made the extravaganza held at MicCom Golf and Country Club in Ada, Osun State, thick was that apart from attracting all registered members of the PGAN, who played for a purse of N5 million, the four founding members of the PGAN – Festus Makelemi of Shell Club, Ogunnu, Emmanuel Lawrence of Kano Golf Club, Patrick Okpomo of Port Harcourt Club (golf section) and Jamiu Oyebajo of Ikeja Golf Club were in attendance.

The need for the PGAN to consolidate on the gains it has so far recorded guided professional players to return, by overwhelming vote, Jamiu Oyebajo, as director of the body. Over three quarter of the 78 members present at its 2010 Annual General Meeting (AGM) endorsed the candidature of the 63-year old Senior Tour player.

According to the tournament director, Dominic Andrew, it was 'because we have great confidence in him and also want continuity in policy as well as consolidation of what we have been able to achieve since he first came on board in 2005 as caretaker committee chairman.'

He stressed that Oyebajo's election would create an atmosphere where the views and consent of the average member of the body was sought before decisions affecting him were taken. Bent on putting behind it the perennial paucity of competitions that has plagued the association, PGAN took its sponsorship drive a notch higher by engaging the services of a sports marketing firm to, among other things, improve its fortunes in the area of tournament sponsorship.

Though the PGA Nigeria Tour, established by lovers of professional golf in the country to revolutionise the game, frowned at the step, saying the PGAN was encroaching into its exclusive turf, Andrew insisted that the Sola Lawson-led PGA Nigeria Tour, was a subsidiary of the PGAN.

In fact, he stressed that with time, more sports marketing firms would be recruited to bolster the sponsorship drive, which was ebbing fast as reflected by the lean number of tourneys staged within the year under review.

One of the most prominent members of the association and former leader of the PGAN Order of Merit, Oche Odoh, is least impressed with the attainments of the PGA Nigeria Tour. He is also bothered at the attitude of wealthy Nigerians towards golf sponsorship, lamenting that they see it as a form of charity and not business, which it is in other climes.

'The situation we find ourselves in the Nigerian Tour is very pathetic,' he cried, adding: 'It is high time the authorities saw professional golf as business and got a title sponsor to run tournaments in this country if they were actually serious about developing professional golf. Without a good tour, developing the game in the country will not be possible and this has its own implications.'

For instance, 'Many well-to-do individuals still see golf sponsorship as charity. Others just say, ok, it is my birthday, so let me get the professionals some money so that they can play to mark the occasion. There should be a distinction between sponsoring golf as business and doing charity.

'Professional golf cannot get anywhere with this kind of atmosphere. So serious sponsors should be sought for, so that playing golf professionally can be seen as a profession that one can engage in and live as comfortable as other professionals are living.

'Without this kind of condition in place, the younger professionals will never aspire to dethrone the older ones. Already, you have a situation where none of the younger ones can say 'yes, I have what it takes to beat Oche (Odoh) or Edet (Umoh) or Gboyega (Oyebanji). They are not fired up to think along that line because there is little or nothing to motivate them.

'The PGA Nigeria has not done anything close to expectations. They started very well in 2008 and made all of us to believe that they had something to offer, but to my greatest surprise, they have failed in what they set out to do. How do you explain a situation where you cannot play up to six events that have been attracted by PGA Nigeria in an entire season? Of course nobody would say they have done well in this regards.'

In the first quarter of the year, a former male caddie of Nigerian origin, who attempted to con the world's golf ruling body, the Royal and Ancient (RandA) Golf Club, St Andrews, Scotland, had his game exposed. It was the umpteenth time some unscrupulous individuals have tried to access the assistance given to countries by the RandA for selfish purposes.

The impostor in the latest scam, who posed to be a female going by the name, Mrs. Belinda Adebayo Rose, wrote to the RandA asking for assistance in terms of equipment to start up a driving range at the University of Lagos, claiming to be the Head, Council of Sport, the University of Lagos.

When concerned persons took steps to uncover the brain behind the request, which began in late 2009, it was realised that the impostor was a former caddie at the golf section of Ikoyi Club 1938.

As investigations went on, the head of sports section of the University of Lagos revealed that there was actually a proposal by the institution to build a golf course, but it had not taken off. The Nigeria Golf Federation (NGF) promised to react to the development in due course but did not.

With a total of 12 merit events and a number of invitationals (non-merit) staged across the country throughout the year, with a combined purse of less than N100 million, Andrew says the outgoing year was not the best of years, neither was it the worst in terms of harvest of tourneys.

The tournament director, who further informed that four tourneys that were supposed to be merit events were postponed due to unforeseen circumstances, added: 'We are working at something currently. Though we expect a slow start to next season, things would pick up gradually because of the plans we have put in place.'

Gboyega Oyebanji returned to the summit of the PGAN Order of Merit, a position he last enjoyed at the end of the 2003 season. This feat he attained barely two years after relocating to the IBB Golf and Country Club from Ikeja Golf Club. According to him, to end the season on a high, he simply had to stick to his game plan, which was to win as many tourneys as possible and finish inside the first 10 in those, which victory was not within reach.

'I succeeded in winning two tournaments, the Akwa Ibom.

Governor's Cup and the Nigeria At 50 tourney, which IBB Golf and Country Club hosted,' he said. 'In the other tournaments that I played, I finished inside the first five in most of them and the rest inside the first 10. With this, I gathered enough points to finish top.'

Meanwhile, the two Ghanaian imports in the Nigerian Tour, Emos Korblah and Vincent Torgah, equally finished well, with Korblah missing the top spot by few points. Korblah, who won the last ranking event of the year at Asaba, Delta State, was largely tipped to lead the pack because he is very hard working and enjoys taking his hosts to task.

As a person, he was very sure he would return to the lead. But when the ranking was released, he said: 'I was shocked myself. I thought that was enough to push me forward, but anyway, it was a good fight-back at last.'

In the ranking released, former Nigeria Open winner, who is experiencing a surge in form since relocating to Ikeja Golf Club, Lateef Lasisi, finished third, while Sunday Odegha – the 2008 PGA Qualifying School best player, who snapped up two victories during the year – finished fourth.

The Odoh brothers – Martin and Oche – ended fifth and sixth respectively while Umoh Edet of IBB International Golf and Country Club, Vincent Torgah, Musa Ayuba and Gift Willy ended seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th in that order.

On the amateur scene, CMCL Golf Tours Ltd, which emerged as administrator of the game in the country, clocked one year on the saddle in June. Of course, safe for a few amateur events like the Cross River Open, which went underground soon after it debuted, other major amateur events, like the FirstBank Lagos Open, held as planned.

Many believe that this was so because most amateur players are not just high networth individuals, but also chieftains of blue chip firms that have the capacity to bankroll the tourneys without baiting an eyelid.

Among other events on the international scene, Nigeria participated in the World Golfers Championship (WGC) in Thailand, the International Golf Federation (IGF) biennial meeting in Argentina and the World Amateur Team Championship, which ran concurrently. The country's team to the two championships failed to impress.

The country was also missing when its rules' officials failed to show up at the 20th annual Referees School organised by the Rand A in St Andrews, Scotland. The NGF, explaining this, said it stayed away because it did not get any invite.

Efforts by Nigerian women to dethrone their South African counterparts, who have dominated the All Africa Challenge Trophy (AACT), failed to yield fruits as the country finished a distant ninth at the tourney, where Nigeria was represented by the quartet of Faith Okoh-Baya, Rachael Danjuma, Amina Wilfred and Diana Okah.

However, opinions are divided regarding how the NGF has fared under the leadership of Olagunsoye Oyinlola. Those against are of the opinion that Oyinlola had very little time to give direction to the body, which needed to cover a lot of grounds, even as he failed to use his goodwill while in office as governor of Osun State, to bolster the negligible number of developmental events played within the period under review. This development still calls to question, the effectiveness of having governors at the helm of sport federations.

Though the federation blamed logistics reasons for the botched President Open in the wake of Oyinlola's sack from office by the Appeal Court sitting in Osogbo, this action serves as a canon fodder for his detractors, who say the tourney should have gone ahead since strong institutions should not be built around just an individual.

For those in support of Oyinlola, the one and half years spent so far in office should be seen as a period the body appraised the strengths and weaknesses of the federation, after which the federation should hit the ground running as the 2011 season begins.