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Women golfers are getting there, a putt at a time

Over the years, women golfers have made great strides in bridging the gap between them and their male counterparts. Once, there were few women players in the male-dominated sport but things are fast changing and boosting the prospects of more professionals emerging.

Kenya Ladies Golf Union said in the last five years, the federation had issued more handicaps –a sign that there was marked improvement in the women’s game.

Pioneer

It is impossible to talk about women’s golf without mentioning Rose Naliaka, a pioneer who is an inspiration to upcoming players. The only professional female golfer in Kenya encourages young people to play.

Since competing in her first amateur tournament 30 years ago, Rose has not looked back. She has won countless trophies and awards in the world.

Golf is considered an elitist sport, and majority of women start playing the game when they are over 35 years. To make up for this gap, Rose started the Rose Naliaka Golf Academy in 2006 to nurture young talent.

While Rose can be proud of being one of Kenya’s most successful professional golfers, she said her greatest achievement was not in her trophy case.

“The biggest highlight of my life was starting a programme to teach girls how to play golf,” said Rose.

Most of the girls in her academy come from Kibera. Rose picked the girls deliberately in a bid to shatter the myth that golf is a game for rich men only.

Her gamble paid off, as one of the star junior players Naomi Wafula , a handicap 2, is from her stable. She is currently Kenya’s top amateur lady and leading junior golfer.

“When I came to the academy, I did not know how to hold a golf club. I have improved a great deal and I owe it to Rose who has been a mentor and a mother,” said Naomi.

She was the youngest golfer to be capped at 12, and was part of the team that won the Gilberson and Page title in Zambia in 2011.

“My aim is to become professional. With Rose by my side, I am confident. I know she would guide me and hopefully, I could emulate her,” said Naomi.

Rose is full of praise for her student, saying she has what it takes to emulate her success and break more records.

“Naomi has won many titles at a young age and I see a bright future for her. She has the right mentality of becoming a successful golfer,” said Rose.

Inspire hope

Apart from Rose and Naomi, there are equally good golfers who have made their mark and continue to inspire hope.

Josephine Ainley, who now plays off handicap 2 ruled the game in her glory days. In her time, she was ranked number one in the Kenyan Golfer of the Year series. She won the Kenya Strokeplay and Matchplay championships twice. She captained Kenya to second place during the 2008 All African Challenge Trophy in Egypt.

Muthaiga Golf Club Lady Captain, Christina Engell Andersen now plays off handicap 6. She represented Kenya at the 2002 Junior Open Championship in Scotland.  She captained the Gilberson and Page Trophy team in 2011. She has learnt to balance work, family and playing golf.

“ There is nothing I enjoy as much as golf. It just gets the stress of work and family out of my mind and also allows me to express myself,” she said.