As you are reading this, a mega golf tourney is ongoing at the lush Ibom Golf Club in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. In essence, this tourney that is gulping a stunning N20 million, with N15 million going to the regular professionals and N5 million to the senior pro golfers is being floated to celebrate 90 years of professional golf in Nigeria. The Pro event will end tomorrow with amateurs mounting the stage on Saturday and Sunday.
Counting down to 50, the road to the pro game has been rough indeed. Since the time the late sage, Chief Anthony Enahoro, as a 32- year old Information Minister in the then Western region, urged the defunct Nigeria Tobacco Company, to assist in funding the training of the first five professionals in England, which later culminated in the formation of the Nigeria Professional Golfers Association, the history of the pro game has been a bitter sweet one rolled in a fierce whirlwind.
The beginning of the Pro game under the watch of the late Matthew Jacob as Director was rosy indeed. With corporate sponsorships from mainly the Nigeria Tobacco Company and the First Bank, the Pro game just leapt into glory with the formation of the Safari Tour as the main golf Tour in Africa. At the time, the Nigerian Open was the arrow head tourney of the Safari.
Playing out annually at the prestigious Ikoyi Golf Club, points harnessed from the Nigerian Open were sure gateway to the historic British Open. No wonder golf greats from around the world were then flooding the Open just to navigate their way to the British. Notable among the foreign Pros who were flooding Nigeria were former World No1, Nick Faldo and Vijay Singh. Sure the foreigners dominated the event. The tourney was such a huge fun, especially when it made a bold entry into the European Golf Tour.
More joyful moment followed the success of the Nigerian Open. As the world got wind of the magnificent Ryder Cup, a grand tourney, which till this day, involves the United States and the rest of Europe in fierce golf duel, so also was the epic golf battle which annually pitched West Africa against Great Britain.
Those were the sweet years of pro golf. All of a sudden, the golf game arrived a rough patch to that point it was almost going into extinction. The sad moment just came. Nobody could offer any tangible reason for such ugly decline. The Pros soon found themselves on breadline since years could roll by with not more than a couple of sponsored tourneys making the platform. Everybody just gave up on the professionals. Only few of them could make a decent living from lining up lessons for amateur golfers.
However, succour came. Brave individuals like Otunba Olusola Adekanola, Sir Lucky Omoluwa, Ogbuechi Uche Okpuno and Senator David Mark picked up the gauntlet and flood the scene with tourneys offering at least N5 million in prize monies. At once, the Executive Governor of Plateau State, Rt. Hon. Simon Lalong soon joined such individual sponsorships and things were just getting rosier. But considering that the nation has close to 200 Pro golfers, the bold effort of these individuals could only stabilize the Pro game and save it from going moribund. The Pros were still hoping against hope that there could still be light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Hurray, that light is here and the whole thing is happening at a time the Pro body is clocking 50. You can now see the Pros jumping clearly and punching the sky in sheer ecstasy.
With a huge drive from 7th Sports International, a private consulting firm, with assistance from selected friends of the Pro body, a whole N20 million could be raised for just one tourney. This is beyond fantasy.
But things could indeed get better. The Pro body should now strive to revive Nigerian Open. Effort should be made to reconcile the regular Tour with the West African Golf Tour so Nigerian Pros could fly just one flag. Then the Pro Qualifying School should be regulated. It is uncalled for when over 150 Category 1 amateurs flooding a Qualifying school with just three making it to the Pro cadre only for the rest to turn back to the same school in another two years. The Qualifying School could happen every four years with a sizeable 20 making the Pro cadre. In a space of four years, it is sure that some ten players must have moved from the regular Tour to the Senior. This way, there will be controlled crowd on the Tour.
Whatever, the Nigerian Pros who have endured several years of agony can now see their Everest. It is left for them to mount.