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Golf in Egypt: Breaking Barriers

When we mentioned the All African Challenge Trophy (AACT) in our last column we frankly saw it as a natural extension of regional championships that might have been played for years in Africa, quite like those that exist throughout the world. What we found in Katameya when the competitors arrived was something quite different. The …


When we mentioned the All African Challenge Trophy (AACT) in our last column we frankly saw it as a natural extension of regional championships that might have been played for years in Africa, quite like those that exist throughout the world. What we found in Katameya when the competitors arrived was something quite different. The AACT is, indeed, a remarkable achievement of one visionary woman, Tess Covell.

To understand how Tess – as she is known to the thousands of her devoted fans – came to launch the AACT you need to understand some things about her history, the history of post-colonial Africa, and the nature of the sport itself.

Tess grew up in England at a time when Africa had been largely liberated from its colonial past, but when the southern countries of the continent – South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), Angola and Namibia (then Southwest Africa) were ruled by white minorities. Tess eschewed the usual path of university education to go to Africa as a volunteer teacher. There she met and married a mentor of many idealistic British, Canadian and American young people. He happened to play golf; she took up the game without any real conviction, but she discovered that golf would support her youthful ideals.

“Golf in Africa, she says has been all about breaking barriers. When I took up golf in Southern Africa, it was the preserve of upper middle class colonialists and South African whites. As you can see and know from talking to the ladies who have come to Cairo to play in the AACT, golf in Africa is now a sport for every woman. And it has broken down the personal barriers of class, race, and age like no other sport that I know.

Achieving this did not come easy. When Tess first joined the Zimbabwe golfing community it was a refuge of the previously white-dominated ruling class. It took her several years to overcome that barrier, but eventually she became the Women s Captain of her club and then the President of the Ladies Golf Union of Zimbabwe. The first AACT tournament took place in Harare in 1992.

But we are getting ahead of the story. When living in Zambia, Tess was invited to take a team of lady golfers to the ‘All Indian Championship’; the idea of an All-African Ladies Championship was born on that trip. It would take another nine years, during which she moved to Zimbabwe, to turn this dream into a reality.

An important principal of making golf a universal sport for ladies living in Africa was to allow any lady golfer with a handicap at a golf club to play in the AACT. This broke the barrier between citizens of a country and foreign residents. It also broke the barrier among golfers of African, European and Asian origin who make up nearly all of the golfers in Africa.

A second important principal Tess employed was to make the tournament stroke play. Although one of the beauties of golf is the handicap system, which allows golfers of every level to compete against each other, it is very hard to merge the systems for determining handicaps among clubs from dozens of different countries. So, Tess eliminated that potential problem by making everyone play with no handicap. For the AACT, this has meant dominance by the South Africans who have had the longest and most intense golfing program on the continent. One look at the rankings of the 150 African professional golfers quickly shows it is made up almost entirely of South Africans.

The event at Katameya Heights Golf and Tennis Resort demonstrated the South African dominance. The team championship, the individual championship, and the three top golfers all came from South Africa. They also demonstrated how golf breaks the age barrier. All three are under 21 years old.

Seventeen countries competed over 54 holes: Angola, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Namibia, Nigeria, Togo, Gabon, Botswana, Morocco, Cote d Ivoire and of course Egypt.

The make-up of the Egyptian team is a microcosm of Tess s philosophy of breaking barriers. The three team members include one lady whose parents are Egyptian, one who has an Egyptian mother and an Italian father, and the third who was born in France, but spent her entire married life in Egypt and now holds an Egyptian passport. Two of the golfers are young, unmarried ladies, who started playing as children. The third took up the game as an adult and has become one of the best lady golfers in Egypt.

For the first time in its history, Egypt hosted the AACT at Katameya Heights. Hosting it has provided a major benefit to Egypt by showing the excellent organization that the team at Katameya Heights, headed by the Director of Golf, Gerard Bent demonstrated in organizing the tournament.

Naela El Attar, who is studying golf management in the US, says “this year in Egypt the tournament was better organized and managed than the previous events I played in Namibia and Zambia. It won t be long before we can host the world amateur championships, which has close to 40 teams. Naela knows a little about the World Championships as well, having competed in Puerto Rico 2004 and South Africa 2006.

Egypt offered its visitors a second tournament to play, the Egyptian Ladies Open hosted at the JW Marriott Mirage City Golf Club. Again, the results demonstrated the genius of Tess s concept. This year the Nefertiti Cup was hoisted for the first time by a visitor, Melissa from Zambia, who defeated the AACT Champion Monica Smit of South Africa and Bonita Bredenhann of Namibia in a three-way playoff. It was a near perfect ending to two weeks of ladies golf in Egypt.

There is certainly more to golf than one might imagine.

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