Golfers left in the lurch
The Kurmitola Golf Club inside the Dhaka Cantonment should have been abuzz with members, golfers and caddies: playing, practising and spending a lively time golfing and in social activities. Instead, the sumptuous clubhouse and the sprawling course -- the finest in the country -- is deserteded. There is an eerie silence about this place, a silence that reverberates around a dozen or so public and private golf courses around the country.
A silence brought on by Covid-19.
No other sporting community in the country has perhaps been as deeply affected by the pandemic as golf despite its image of an elitist sport.
There are more than 150 registered professional golfers in the country and many more amateurs, with only a small fraction of them coming from well-off families. Most of the pros and amateurs, not to mention the caddies and ball-boys, come from impoverished families who live inside or around the cantonment areas where golf clubs are situated.
And golf, to these golfers, is the only medium of earning a living. Many of them may start their golfing journey with big dreams, but with time, most of those dreams subside as reality takes over. They are invariably left with the only option of earning a bare pittance from playing in local tournaments, coaching club members or even working as caddies.
But more than three months into the 'lockdown' of the golf clubs and no imminent sign of 'unlocking', those sources of income have been cut out from the golfers and caddies and they are desperately seeking alternative avenues for a living.
Mohammad Muaz is a promising young golfer from Savar, who lives near the Savar Golf Club. He had turned pro at a very young age in 2014 with the dream of someday becoming a seasoned golfer.
He has won a number of local events over the years, including the Hosaf Golf Tournament – played from March 16 to 18 this year in Savar, just before a countrywide shutdown was enforced.
Muaz received a trophy for his triumph, but is yet to receive the winner's cheque. All that he has got so far is Tk 8000 from the BPGA (Bangladesh Professional Golfers Association) as a one-time assistance and relief/ration from the golf club. Now he is having to borrow money from his friends and relatives to survive and help his family survive.
"I have been spending from my savings and borrowing from others. I even thought of trying to go for a job, but then thought if the clubs open soon then I might not be able to give up the job and return to golf, where I have invested so much time, effort and money," Muaz told The Daily Star from Savar.
"It is a precarious situation for the golfers. I live with my family and we have our own home here. But there are plenty others who live in rented houses with their families and have had nothing to do since the coronavirus pandemic came. Many of them may have to leave golf unless things normalise soon," Muaz said with a lot of anguish.
BPGA organises between 10 and 15 tournaments each year, with prize purses of around Tk 10-15 lacs for each event. Those tournaments are an invaluable source of income and experience for these golfers.
Till March 18, three BPGA events took place. The season was about to kickstart with the Bangabandhu Cup Golf – an Asian Tour event – in addition to PGTI events and a number of BPGA events lined up. Instead Covid-19 kicked in, upending the plans and livelihoods of the golfing community.
Bangladesh's premier golfer Siddikur Rahman, who has carved out a successful career from his humble beginnings and ensured a life of financial security, can see the predicament of his peers.
"The truth is that most of the golfers do not have specialisation or skill in any other field of work. And they don't have the capital to start a seasonal business in these times. So the only way for them is to wait for good times and expect help from the authorities," the two-time Asian Tour winner told The Daily Star.
But help from the authorities is something not easily forthcoming. According to many golfers, the BPGA provided its members with a lump sum amount and clubs arranged rations for them a couple of times. There have been sporadic donations from sponsors and members, but any substantial monetary help -- like the ones provided by the Bangladesh Cricket Board or any fund from the sports ministry – is yet to arrive.
Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Abdul Bari, coordinator at the Bangladesh Golf Federation, said they were doing all they could to help golfers and caddies.
"The situation regarding the pandemic is not ideal anywhere now. We have not received any instructions regarding when the clubs could be opened. We are observing what other federations are doing. Meanwhile, we have helped our caddies and ballboys during these tough times. We are hoping to receive financial support from the authorities," Bari said.
As opening up of the golf courses does not look like a wise idea in view of the deteriorating situation of the pandemic, financial support from the sports ministry is the only option to help these floundering golf people survive.