Many low handicap golfers in Kenya will have to wait a little longer before they are admitted to the pro ranks. The Professional Golfers Association of Kenya, PGA-K, now says although there are very few playing pros in the country, the association will not be in a rush to admit new members, a move it says would “affect quality”.
Speaking to T-OFF News, PGA-K Chairman Charan Tethy acknowledged that though a several elite amateurs are ready to step up to paid ranks, the association will subject all applicants to stringent qualification criteria to ensure that only “exceptional” players are upgraded.
“There are so many youngsters playing so well at the moment. We want to ensure that only players who have hit the highest level of their game turn pro. We must safeguard quality over quantity, so by someone playing off a low handicap doesn’t automatically qualify you to become a playing pro,” said Tethy.
A number of elite amateurs are expected to join the paid ranks this year after a sterling performance on the Kenya Amateur Golf Championship circuit in the last three years. Among the leading players include Adel Balala, Michael Karanga and John Lejirma. Mutahi Kibugu and Simon Njogu turned pro last year.
To say PGA-K is at crossroads is an understatement. The Association has a membership of close to 60 out of which only 40 members are active playing pros. And with such lean numbers, PGA-K will be hard pressed to secure funding for its programmes from both the public coffers and private sponsors. The funding dilemma aside, PGA-K must introduce a local Tour recognized by the World Golf Ranking for its members to qualify for invitation to international tournaments.
“I know our low numbers have always worked against us since sponsors want to see a big field. As we move towards having events recognized by OWGR the ideal scenario is to have at least 80 active playing pros locally. But a word of caution here…extra numbers do not automatically translate to more sponsorship opportunities. Even sponsors want to see certain standards of performance,” Tethy said.
The number of pros in the country has stagnated over the years largely driven by tough qualification criteria and muted interest, thanks to limited playing opportunities. Among the requirements to qualify for licensing as a playing pro, one must play off handicap zero or lower, represent Kenya at international amateur events and win at least one event in the Kenya Amateur Golf Championship.
“Granted the prevailing circumstances, we may relax some eligibility criteria but I can assure you we are not in a rush to grow our numbers just for the sake of it. We must secure our reputation by not just opening the floodgates. Remember, pros represent the country especially at Kenya Open and any other high profile events. If we are not careful with our quality control mechanisms, we shall bring ridicule to PGA-K whenever our members fail to perform to the expected level,” Tethy warned.
PGA-K has however swung its doors wide open to golfers wishing to become Teaching pros and Club pros. The Association has partnered with the PGA of South Africa to offer three year- online courses.
PGA-K was registered last year as an autonomous sports federation charged with running all aspects of professional golf in Kenya.