GACHERU: Ladies Coast Open shouldn’t block good players from poor backgrounds

One of Kenya’s most prestigious and rigorous ladies championships is the Ladies Coast Open. This week-long festival of golf takes place at the Coast for six days and includes events on four golf courses.

The Coast Ladies Open kicks off with 18-holes of Stableford golf at the Leisure Golf Course in Diani on Monday, followed by another 18-holes of stableford golf at the Baobab Course at Vipingo Ridge on Tuesday.

But these are just the warm up rounds as on Wednesday the ladies will converge on the Nyali Golf and Country Club for two days of serious golf. Day one involves competitive ladies foursomes and day two includes two rounds of stroke play golf on one of the toughest golf courses in this country.

On August 7, the ladies will move to the Mombasa Golf Club, the only links course in Kenya, for the Mombasa Cup, an 18-hole stroke play competition, and on the final day of competition on Saturday, a mixed greensome competition will be held at the same venue.

One of the new conditions of playing in the 2015 Ladies Coast Open is that all players must have a valid CONGU managed handicap and must be fully paid up members of their respective golf clubs.

On the surface, that condition may look harmless and even routine. However, if you consider that some of the best lady golfers in the country are from the caddy ranks and are not members of any particular golf club, then a pattern of exclusion begins to emerge.

You see, golf handicaps are extremely important in ensuring equity on the golf course – and of course it becomes a problem if competitions allow golfers who are not correctly handicapped. However, in ‘off-scratch’ stroke play competitions, handicaps are irrelevant because each player is deemed to be playing off a scratch (or zero) handicap.

So whilst it may be logical to demand properly maintained handicaps for the rounds, which involve stable ford play, it is equally illogical to demand the same over rounds that are ‘off-scratch’.

In the absence of good junior golf development, the next crop of players have continued to emerge from the caddy ranks. And whilst this has largely been accepted in men’s golf – the same cannot be said of ladies’ golf.

With the exception of a few players, literally the whole elite men golf team is made up of players from the caddy ranks – who have since graduated and joined golf clubs as legitimate members.

Indeed, the Kenyan professional ranks are also made up entirely of former caddies. This, however, is not the case in the Kenya ladies team that has continued to be a closed club of the same old ladies who have been on the scene for the last three to four decades.  

The Rose Naliaka Foundation has continued to train and nurture young girls from less than privileged backgrounds and the youngsters from the foundation now dominate ladies golf.

However – these young girls are not celebrated and are often blocked and unnecessarily hindered by the establishment. The good news, however, is that, these girls, and the lady caddies, have the world as their playground and no amount of ill-crafted tournament conditions will derail their progress in golf.

So this weekend, I would like to put the spotlight on the Coast Ladies Open, and urge the organisers to allow all ladies to play, irrespective of their background. Let the talent shine.