MASERU — It is hoped by the beginning of next year Lesotho would add new faces to its rather lean roster of professional golfers.
For the past five months Motlalentoa Moloi, Lesotho’s only professional golfer, has been tutoring four players.
Baitsi Motsamai, Tieho Mochebele, Tlotliso Khabo and Tung-Nan Lin — who have all been on the amateur circuit for at least four years — are part of a finishing school that is in its final stages.
Local golf also saw the election of a new Lesotho Golf Association (LGA) executive board last month and unsurprisingly, a new start has been promised by the association.
However, problems still remain for the country’s golf not least the dwindling interest among the youths.
“We are focusing on youth development,” Lesotho golf captain, Masuhla Leteka, says. “The focus is on getting more youngsters — and also more women — interested in the sport.”
Though no accurate statistics are available, the number of players taking up golf has remained relatively stagnant for the last three years. And the youngsters that are taking up golf, according to Moloi, are those whose parents are involved in the sport.
“It is still a problem,” says LGA treasurer, Thabang Khabo.
There are problems also that may be beyond the association’s control.
For example, in Lesotho — like other developing countries — there is a class distinction with regards to golf.
The game is seen as elitist and remains restricted to a smaller section of society.
It is perhaps an irony then that one of golf’s main impediments is lack of funds.
Last year the LGA received a paltry M100 000 subvention from the Lesotho Sport and Recreation Commission (LSRC).
The amount, which has been the same since 1998, is meant to cover the day-to-day upkeep of the Maseru Golf Club, pay staff and oversee youth development.
The LGA had hoped the amount would be increased this year.
“To be honest, it (the M100 000) doesn’t meet our needs. That’s why we have to supplement it through tournaments and sponsors,” Khabo says.
It is why youth development remains stetchy, apart from the four youngsters at finishing-school.
In August, Moloi — and his selected partner Motsamai — were unable to represent Lesotho at golf’s 2009 World Cup qualifiers in Malaysia, because of lack of funds.
The Golf World Cup takes place from November 26-29 in China.
In April this year Lesotho failed to take part in the Zone VI golf championships in Zimbabwe. Indeed, in the last twelve years Lesotho has only sent a team to the regional games four times: in 1997, 1998, 2001 and last year.
Lesotho’s non-affiliation to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A), the world governing-body for amateur golf, is also a major setback.
Lesotho is the only country in the region that is not registered with R&A.
Golf is divided into amateur and professional. Once players turn professional they are basically on their own.
Over 125 national unions, associations and federations worldwide, are affiliated to R&A.
These local bodies are responsible for administering the Rules of Golf and the Rules of Amateur Status, at national level.
The United States and Mexico, are the other golfing nations that do not fall under the association.
Countries are able to invest in grassroots development through the R&A Foundation Particular whose emphasis is placed on the encouragement of junior golf development in emerging golfing nations, coaching and provision of open-to-all courses and practice facilities.
Lesotho’s absence from R&A has therefore seen it fall behind fellow African nations.
“Lesotho is not affiliated because we only have one golf course. As a matter of principle, a country has to have more than one golf course to join R&A,” Khabo says.
Apart from this, R&A also provides guidance on all aspects of golf course management to help the growth of the game in a commercially and environmentally sustainable way.
“A good example is South Africa. But it is a process that we have been working on,” Khabo says.
“It’s been a while, because a committee usually stays for just one year,” he continues. “In most other cases a committee stay for three to five years. Because of that there is a lack of continuity and lack of communication. When some new committee members come in they bring their own ideas. It is fortunate that at the last AGM it was decided the new board would serve until 2011. It gives us some time.”
The R&A asked the association to sort-out the constitution in 2007.
For some, life gets so tough in the pro-ranks they give-up the game.
This leads to the failure of professional golf in the country — a career choice that has led to the fairytale lifestyles of successful golfers like Tiger Woods who, last week, became the sport’s first billionaire.
A professional golfer has to have adequate backing in order to succeed. This has not been the case for Moloi, resulting in a lacklustre outing in 2009.
Moloi has endured a sub-standard year in which he was unable to qualify for all the major events.
A persistent lack of support or sponsorship has seen Moloi play in only three of the 12 tour events to have taken place so far this year — January’s Africa Open in East London, April’s Vodacom Business Origins of Golf Tour event in Bloemfontein and the SAA Pro-Am Invitational held in Durban last month.
Yet the perilous realities of professional golf are shown by statistics in neighbouring South Africa.
At the start of this year it was reported that 17 or 18 amateurs across the border had turned professional.
Nine of those players are yet to win their first pay cheque.
The rest have very little to show for the tournaments they have competed in so far this year.
With the direct costs of attending a tournament (travel, accommodation, caddie-fees, meals) averaging at least M4 000 few can claim to be making a livelihood from playing the sport.
And Moloi agrees it would be tough for the new boys unless they receive some sort of backing.
“Going professional is going to be very hard for these boys,” Moloi says.
The rough road many end-up on comes as an unexpected bad dream that destroys any enjoyment and self-worth a player had managed to derive out of the game of golf.
So is there a future for golf in the country?
“There is a big future for golf,” budding golfer, Mothusi Semoko, says. “But unless people start doing something about it, nothing will happen. We need sponsors that will help us get up from the ground.”
And there are signs of hope; a new sponsor, John Williams Motors, has come on board.
“They have committed themselves to an annual tournament. All the money that will come from the tournament, will go towards junior development,” Khabo says.
Then there is the LNDC Golf Day, coming in the second week of December before the season-finale, the LCS Multichoice tournament.”