Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s announcement at the end of the Malaysian Open at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club that RM2 million will be given to the Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) to promote the sport at school level was met with mixed reaction.
Clearly, Najib wants to see more of us pick up the sport. He said it should be accessible to Malaysians at all levels as that would help produce top golfers in this country in the future.
He congratulated MGA on having started a golf programme in which 11 schools are participating.
While Najib’s gesture was seen as noble by some, many felt he did not think it through before extending his generosity.
The consensus among golf enthusiasts, especially the national veterans, is that the money could be better spent on building a public course that is affordable to all.
Donating money to MGA for the development of the sport is fine, but many feel it will only be enjoyed by a select few.
Veteran V. Nellan, 63, who started off in the sport as a 13-year-old caddy at the Royal Selangor Golf Club, said golf is an expensive game. “For it to be played by more, it has to be affordable,” he added.
Nellan grew up with golf because his parents were in charge of ground maintenance at RSGC. The family lived in the staff quarters on the fringe of the 18th hole.
Nellan started caddying when he was just seven to earn pocket money for school - he was paid 50 cents for each job. He dropped out of school at 15 to play golf.
Caddying, which used to be the first stage of training for future golfers, is slowly dying out. Our young people these days are not interested in being caddies as it involves long hours and is tiring. No wonder golf clubs opt for foreign caddies, especially Indonesian women.
Moreover, the few local caddies, especially at the smaller clubs and out of the city, are there just to earn some money. They just want to carry the bag, get paid for it and go home. They are not interested in playing the game and hardly give any tips to golfers on the course.
Besides Nellan, other Malaysian top golfers also started off as caddies, including P. Gunasegaran, who in 1994 came within a whisker of winning the Malaysian Open at RSGC but lost to Sweden’s Joakim Haeggmann in a play-off.
Other caddies who made good as golfers are M. Ramayah, R. Nachimutu, S. Sivachandran, P. Segaran, Mohd Shaaban Hussin and Khairul Adri to name a few.
Meanwhile, exorbitant club membership and expensive green fees mean golf is not for the average wage earner.
Also, most clubs do not have structured junior development programmes, depriving many aspiring golfers of the chance to take up the game.
With few public courses or driving ranges, what is there to encourage Malaysians to play golf?
Besides, playing a round of golf at the two public courses in the Klang Valley – Kinara and Sri Subang – is no cheap affair.
Fortunately, currently about 300 to 400 junior golfers have competed under the SportExcel programme which was started 24 years ago.
Golf was the first sport for which a junior programme was organised by SportExcel, and today, in collaboration with the various sports associations, there are also programmes for squash, bowling, cycling, shooting, cricket, swimming, diving, rhythmic gymnastics, artistic gymnastics, tennis, sepak takraw, athletics and taekwondo.
The programmes are managed with the support of both the government and the private sector with the National Sports Council and Milo as the main partners. There are also 20 charter members (companies) that support the programme with RM15,000 a year and project sponsors like AmBank that are title sponsors for tournaments with contributions that range from RM20,000 to RM100,000.
SportExcel has two golf circuits – the national junior circuit (10 legs including the grand final) and the premier elite circuit (five legs) – that are held throughout Malaysia on different courses that present different challenges.
In 2012, SportExcel introduced an international exposure programme for junior golfers with reciprocal arrangements with China, India, Thailand, Japan and Australia.
Among the golfers who have come out of this programme are Gavin Kyle Green, Galvin Kendall Green, Kelly Tan, Wilson Choo, S. Siva Chandran, Nicholas Fung, Ben Leong and Mohd Arie Irwan Ahmad Fauzi, to name but a few.
On hindsight, maybe it would have been wiser to grant the RM2 million to SportExcel. After all, they have a wide pool of young golfers and a proven track record.
In any case, it is not too late to channel some funds into SportExcel.
Food for thought?