“Magical” Kenya Open Joins European Tour for Inaugural Event
If we are to fully grasp what is happening to the game of golf around the world, dropping some old perceptions will be prerequisite, especially when it comes to the African continent. Those of us who grew up in the age of fictitious movies and novels about the interior of Africa may have a harder time of it, but it still has to be done. Golf has long found a prestigious home in South Africa, highlighted by several national stars, one that became the scourge of all tours, and is enshrined as a member of the “Big Three.” We may be aware of some resort courses on African shores in the north as well, but wait, there’s more. Along with Edgar Rice Buroughs and his fanciful visions of Africa, we have to put old European notions that nothing ever happened or happens on the continent away for good. For instance, while we sample the superiority of Ethiopian architecture for its time, and browse Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s histories of the western African empires as centers of worldwide education, we can now add a burgeoning golf culture. The Kenya Open Championship, now called the Magic Kenya Open, has been played for several decades, and is about to join the European Tour as an inaugural event. Not only that, but the Golf Channel is going to make sure that we can see it. Unlike the game of cricket emerging in India as part of an expanding empire, this time they’re playing golf because they feel like it, and Kenya seems to know what it’s doing.
The Kenya event is putting forward the largest prize money ever offered in the region, coming out to around 1.1 million Euros. Starting tomorrow, March 14, we will be given a window into Kenya’s beautiful landscape, especially the Karen Country Club, recently upgraded and looking wonderful. Sponsorship has come from the Bank of Kenya, Kenya Breweries, Hemmingway Hotels, and Multi-Choice, among other Kenyan enterprises. Of course, many of us failed to see this coming. A decade ago, IAGTO awarded its most prestigious award for Best Undiscovered Golf Destination to Kenya. The worldwide promotional and travel organization houses 2,753 golf operators, hotels, resorts, and courses, with partners in 106 countries. That should help people get there.
One of the fun parts for me is that promotion for the tournament isn’t going to be just about a hundred Europeans flying into Kenya to play golf. The club and city of Nairobi is holding its own preparatory tournaments to heighten interest. It is here that golfers from the home country are recognized. In the DStv Explora Golf Day, 134 players hit the fairways. In an 18-hole event, Peter Mwangi of the Royal Nairobi Golf Club took honors, along with Anthony Mulinge of the Karen Country Club, a course that will measure 6,922 yards and par 71 for the Open. That’s how great golf powers start. Before you know it, 80s and 82s become 65s and 68s. Suddenly, a young superstar emerges who can hang with the world. It happens all the time.
I am always interested in the surrounding environment of a course or tournament. They are carved out of land masses that feature grizzly bears, snakes and crocodiles, kangaroos, and all manner of onlookers from the animal kingdom. In Kenya, as everywhere else, the wildlife crowds in to get a better look. Wild boars and giraffes are plentiful, but I don’t know the whole story about regional predators. Africa is home to the great elephant, lion, and rhinoceros, and an ignorant stranger might have to wonder aloud as to where they are while we line up this putt.
My next hope is that as the European Tour inaugurates more events on the African continent, the PGA and LPGA will follow. Being wrapped up in fantasy visions of Africa’s varied terrain, the chance for us to see more of the real thing is exciting. With everything I’ve learned about Kenya today, it looks like the perfect place to start.