Though birthed during the period of Ethiopia’s last emperor, the sport of golf was dealt an almost deadly blow ensuing the revolution as it was classified as bourgeoise. Slowly resuscitating for the past three decades, the infant sport is looking for a revival in these new-normal pandemic and post-pandemic times. It is being courted not only for its mental and physical health benefits, but also as a medicine for the economy through sport tourism. Two recent tournaments have given energy to the sport and its backers and believers. EBR’s Abiy Wendifraw takes a swing at the sport and its potential.
On Saturday, May 22, Addis Ababa hosted the Indonesia-Ethiopia Invitational and Friendship Golf Tournament 2021, organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia. The tournament was part of the celebrations of 60 years of Indonesia-Ethiopia relations and showed great promise to transform into an annual event.
This was the second major golf tournament Ethiopia hosted within a month. The Ethiopian Golf Association, the sport’s administrative organ, held the inaugural Ethiopian Open Golf Championship at the end of April. “We are making moves to make golf popular in Ethiopia,” said Teshome Mosisa, Vice President of the association.
Golf might not be something Ethiopians are familiar with. But, “the history of golf in Ethiopia dates back to the 1940’s, to His Majesty Haile Selassie’s era,” according to Teshome. There are sources indicating the emperor was in attendance at the formal inauguration of the Addis Ababa Golf Course in 1955. It is also reported that golf was played at Alemaya Agricultural College in the early 1950’s.
The country’s political transition following the 1974 socialist revolution was not so kind to the infant sport. Classified as “the game of the capitalist/ bourgeoisie” in the political narrative of that period, golf died in its infancy.
When its resurrection came after 20 years, things were not the same. The golf course where people used to enjoy the sport was transformed into the Russian military camp. Golf was not part of the agenda in efforts to restore the country’s sports sector. But there were still enthusiasts who played the game in the two golf courses in Addis Ababa. Golf Club, the only golf course with 18 holes, is also the only field open to lovers of the game. The other, Old Legation Golf Course (OLGC), with six holes, is located inside the British Embassy.
Teshome believes that the foundation has been laid to popularize the sport of golf. “Ethiopia is pursuing the development of golf throughout the country and we have seen progress in the last seven years. But that has to be supported by all relevant stakeholders to realize the full benefits of the sport.”
Research indicates that golf is likely to improve cardiovascular, respiratory, and metabolic health. People who play golf regularly, or at least once a month, could also have a lower risk of death. Playing golf could also help those who suffer chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon and breast cancer, studies have found.
Apart from physical and mental health benefits, the game provides over USD80 billion worth of economic impact globally while generating close to USD4 billion for charity annually. The environmental benefits of golf courses to protect and keep green spaces and natural areas can also not be undermined.
Though reports indicate that golf is in a steady decline globally, some industry experts are now arguing that the future is not so gloomy. Countries are considering golf as among the potential economic forces capable of driving sport tourism. Recently, India’s Ministry of Tourism drafted a guideline to support and promote golf tourism. It has also been reported that Thailand’s tourism minister proposed the country’s golf courses be used as quarantine areas for foreigners to boost the struggling tourism sector during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife in Kenya, Ethiopia’s neighbor, has given additional emphasis on promoting golf as one of the country’s tourist drawers under the country’s tourism development strategy. “Golf generates tourism revenue and also creates market opportunities for the travel and hospitality sector. We are now having great public parks in Addis which give comprehensive services to visitors. We can create a few golf courses in regional cities as well. With great year-round climate, Ethiopia can become a golfing destination with the required infrastructure put in place,” says Teshome.
Sport tourism is listed among the products considered towards the diversification strategy and widening of revenue from the sector. The Ethiopian Sustainable Tourism Master Plan (2015 – 2025) identifies golf tourism as a great opportunity to tap into the high-end tourist market. Though construction of international-standard golf clubs/ resorts in different parts of the country is a prerequisite to the program, little progress has been made thus far.
The leadership at the Ethiopia Golf Association vow to push harder to promote golf and the status of their governing body. Though they have a lot of work to do to claim the status of ‘federation’, they have already become a member of the East Africa Golf Association, Africa Golf Confederation, and the R&A—golf’s global governing body. It is also nearing membership status at the World Golf Federation. While the association is mostly confident on the potential technical support from these continental and global golf organizations, it has to knock on the doors of potential sponsors and partners to ensure its viability.
For the association that plans close to 10 tournaments in a year, the budget subsidy from the government which just reached ETB600,000, is inadequate to cover operational costs. “We are approaching potential sponsors and we have seen promising responses thus far,” says Teshome. EBR
9th Year • May 16 – Jun 15 2021 • No. 98