Monday, 13 February 2012

KCB golf tour now Kenyan affair

The 2010 regional Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) golf tour, marked a new dawn in golfing circles. The game was taken a notch higher as the East African KCB Golf Tour gave professionals from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi a rare opportunity to face off with their experienced rivals from Kenya. The last two editions were marked with great improvement as games were played in courses in Arusha, Kigali, Kampala and Kenya. New players rose to keep a check on seasoned Kenyan players like Dismas Indiza, Ali Kimani, Richard Ainley, Anil Shah and Jacob Okello.

Uganda’s Deo “Yellow Boy” Akope, proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the Kenyans by winning events in the Tour. He won the KCB East African Tour in Arusha in 2010 before cashing in on the home course advantage to win the KCB East African Tour last year. The rise of the Tour has seen youngsters like Simon Ngigi — who won the 2010 Tour on his debut as a pro — and Greg Snow sprout to challenge seasoned golfers. Over the years Kenyans have reigned supreme. Indiza won the Tour back-to-back in 2006 to 2008, Ngigi won in 2010 while Ali Kimani went for top honours in 2009 before Indiza claimed the title last year.

The Tour has played a key role in developing local professionals ahead of the annual Kenya Open Golf Championship and to some extent the PGA Sunshine Tour in South Africa. However, things changed this year with KCB reverting the event to generally be a Kenyan affair. The Tour that will be known as KCB Advantage Banking Challenge will feature six events with a total prize fund of Ksh6.4 million ($77,298). KCB’s director of marketing and communications Angela Mwirigi said that the move has been necessitated by the need to revamp and popularise local events before the tour returns to other countries in the East African region.

There has been a change of structure in the bank, so that instead of having direct funding from Nairobi, KCB wants to decentralise its activities so that the Nairobi headquarters will deal with the Kenyan market. This will encourage other branches across the border to handle their own activities so that branches in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda will come up with events and fund them directly.
Golfers from Uganda and Tanzania will be invited for two events to be played at the Muthaiga Golf Club on February 29 to March 3 and the Grand Finale at Nyali Golf and Country Club on August 8 to 10.
The Grand Finale has a prize fund of Ksh3 million ($36,233) while Ksh2.6 million ($31,402) will go towards administration and prizes for amateurs. The Nyanza and Nakuru events will have a prize tag of Ksh500,000 ($6,038) each while Ksh1 million ($12,077) will be set aside for pros at the Muthaiga contest.

Mwirigi says KCB is still committed to the development of professional golf in the region. “Our objective is to continue to grow this championship to a level where it will attract top regional and continental golfers to Kenya hence promoting KCB Group as a continental brand and regional countries as a destination for golf tourism,” Mwirigi said. “We are looking forward to having each country hosting its event supported by local branches in order to enhance regional growth both in banking and the game.”

Professional Golfers of Kenya (PGK) chairman Charan Thethy said the KCB series that started as a small pro-am series offering a mere Ksh950,000 ($11,474) in 2007 has had a great impact on the development of the game in the region. “Not only has it grown to become a sub-regional tour with a prize fund of Ksh8.7 million ($105,077) last year but it has created intense rivalry among regional golfers hand thus improved the standards,” says Thethy.

Thethy notes that some of the local professionals like Indiza, Anil Shah, Ajay Shah have gone on to feature in various events in the European Challenge Tour besides the Sunshine Tour in South Africa. Thethy says its PGK’s hope that the co-operation between PGK and KCB will continue to grow. “A number of young golfers have turned professional over the past one year because they have faith in pro golf,” adds Thethy.

There have been mixed reactions from professional golfers over KCB’s move. Anil Shah, who set the pace by winning the opener in Thika said the pros should take the changes as a blessing since it challenged other regions to organise their local tours. Akope reckons that it will be a big blow to professionals from other countries. “We thought they would double the prize money and increase the events. It’s the only real pro Tour we had in Uganda but now we have been taken aback,” he said. The pros feel it’s time for regional bodies to put their houses in order and come up with plans that will help secure more sponsorship for a fully-fledged regional tour event. “For us it was a bit expensive travelling all over the region if the current economical situation is to go by. Other countries should take the initiative by develop their local game first,” says Shah, who has won 23 regional tournaments including the 2011 Lusaka Open and 2001 Uganda Open. Shah, who also won the 2004 South Africa 

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