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HomeEXCLUSIVEI do things out of passion

I do things out of passion

Q: Let’s begin this interview about your childhood and your early work years.

A: We are from Chittagong but I grew in Pakistan because my father was in the air force. I passed my matriculation exams in 1966 from Karachi and after finishing my HSC in 1968 from Sargodha Government College I joined the army in Nov 1969.

Q: When did you get into playing golf?

A: I played a lot of squash and hockey during my school and college days. There was no scope for playing golf even after I got into the army as there were just a few courses so the opportunity was extremely limited at the time. By the time I got the chance to play golf, I was a brigadier, Commandant BMA, and I was already about 45 years old, probably around January 1996, so I started learning golf very late. Later when I was in Dhaka and started playing at KGC I was made chairman of the handicap committee. I had to do a lot of self-study to learn the handicap procedure.  This was about the time I realized Bangladesh golf had very few international affiliations, so I started my endeavor for international affiliations. Frankly speaking at that time I understood very little about the golfing world and affiliations. My first initiative was to contact with USGA, while they agreed to help with handicap but they told me that our part of the world is under the jurisdiction of R&A. I affiliated our BGF with the USGA for the handicap system and with International Golf Federation as well. Later on behalf of BGF I developed contacts with R&A around 2007/08 which I can happily say it very good even today.

Brig_Gen_Salim_Akhtar_TheGolfHouse
Brig Gen Salim Akhtar TheGolfHouse

Q: You did most of the golf development works voluntarily, didn’t you?

A: I do things out of passion. I don’t like doing routine work. I like doing things that are innovative and creative, things that make the change. In golf, I developed affiliations first. Then I got to handicapping. Handicapping is a bit complex and requires some patience for mathematical understanding. Since I had earlier done some software programming myself which helped me in a great way to design the handicap software that we use today. KGC and Bhatiary were earlier using a Canadian software for which user clubs were required to renew use license every year by making online payment which was done by some of our very passionate golfers. At BGF we basically reverse engineered the Canadian handicap software with improvements to meet BGF needs like its provides access for all golf clubs. With further improvements on the handicap software in 2017 it now helps BGF to regulate and run the handicap system on a common platform. Its fully accessible on the internet even for player when on travel abroad and handicap or handicap-index is required by the golf club. 2017 upgrade now sends a SMS automatically to the golfers when their handicap changes upwards or downwards and this achievement gives me a sense of achievement and makes me feel good. Handicap software I think that is my biggest contribution to Bangladesh golf. My passion was not limited to my own game; my passion was to contribute to the game of golf. In 2008 I started the first training batch with 10 caddies like Dulal, Sujib, Nazim Musa and others with the full financial assistance of R&A. Happily all these players are now playing BPGA and most played for the national team. During this endeavor we had arranged for golf coaches from New Zealand, UK, India and Germany. I followed up my first endeavor by starting with a girls training team having 15 girls who were students of class VIII – X at the time. Vision was to create a national women’s team over next 6-8 years. During the years that they spent on golf coaching we insisted for continuation of school education and paid for education expenses along with nutrition support and also paid pocket money for encouraging them to stay on the program. Six of the girls who represent the Bangladesh team now have enrolled in Bangladesh Army and continue to play golf. To me golf has changed the life of these young six girls.

Q: What is your next target or ambition?

A: I want to start school-based programs outside of Dhaka. If we can have a pool of 20-30 players at each location, we will definitely find a few good players from them. I must say Mainamati Golf Club has successfully contributed in making the three top amateurs, like Akbar, Rasel & Farhad, who play for the national team now. When Bangladesh Golf Academy (BGA) was set up I was assigned with the job of ‘Rector’ of the academy. I helped with drafting the syllabus and training guidelines that I believe they do practice today with improvements. After about one year I discontinued as I couldn’t give enough time.

Q: Since you are talking about golf academy, what do you think is its prospect?

A: I feel they need to expand their base by starting school programs both inside and outside Dhaka, players from outside Dhaka can be brought to the academy for short periods when schools are closed. BGA has good accommodation.  However, round the year BGA will have to support by sending coaches, may be for one week each time. Golf is very competitive and requires sound technical skills, technical in the sense that ‘ball flight laws’ are similar to ‘ballistic flight laws’. BGA requires appropriate technology to provide the technical support during training and next you need golfers ability to understand and absorb these technical issues related to fundamentals of the game. As far as basic infrastructure is concerned, it is one of the best in the region. However, the golf simulator equipment required for teaching could not be procured. Our limitation about having certified coaches has been partially solved now as I had initiated certification training for the coaches with the Indian Golf Academy with financial assistance from R&A. BGA now has certified coaches with level C & D certification. If they continue it will take a few more years to clear up to level A certification, which is the ultimate objective.  R&A has been very supportive all these years to every project proposal that I had initiated therefore on behalf of BGF I wish to thank R&A.

Brig_Gen_Salim_Akhtar_TheGolfHouse
Brig Gen Salim Akhtar TheGolfHouse

Q: The Leadbetter Golf Academy started with modern equipments and technologies. Do you have any observation about that academy?

A:  Setting of Leadbetter Golf Academy has been a great personal contribution from Mr. Momin-ud-Dowla. I say personal because he started it with ZERO business interest as he also fully understand the current scenario may not provide return on investment anytime soon. Mr. Momin-ud-Dowla has invested a significant amount of money simply due to his love for the game and his desire to contribute towards development of golf.  Leadbetter Golf Academy can certainly contribute towards development of higher golfing skills specially for national team players and also professionals.

 

Q: Tell us your views regarding professional golf and the BPGA.

A: BPGA is a fairly new organization and is growing in the right direction. This was setup some years ago to provide a carrier path for professional golfers. As the years go by BGPA may have to think about introducing Q-School which the aspiring players will have to qualify for playing rights on BPGA just like any other tour. This is not to stop players from playing on BPGA tournament, Q-school requirement simply pushes the player to improve his golf skills and that in a way will help to improve the standard of BPGA players. Once I asked a German coach when should a player decide to become a pro and he answer was, it’s the players judgement and since it requires the player to pay for all his expenses it would be good if the players has a +4 handicap or close before he can decide to turn a pro, or else he would be spending his money with no return.

Q: What should these players do then?

A: Young players need to spend time and money on serious training specially with equipment support. Old ones may not be teachable anymore and may have to simply hold on to skills they have.

Q: There are a lot of tournaments taking place now. Is that the right way forward?

A: Tournament is a requirement but not the solution. Along with tournament planning, plan for skills development training needs to be incorporated, may be BPGA can negotiate 3 month / 6 month training packages with Leadbetter Golf Academy for BPGA players. I make this statement because few of the BPGA players have spent money for training in India and Malaysia. There were some amateurs who turned pro without really being good enough even as amateurs. Needless to say they are struggling. They thought by turning pro they would be earning a lot, but the reality is different. Maturity and experience cannot be bought for money. An amateur should continue playing a few years, gather experience and confidence before he decides to turn pro. Player needs to a vision where he wants to see himself.

Q: There are some golfers coming from well off families these days. Are you optimistic about them?

A: Well I look from different perspective, has the person done some schooling which provides him the capacity to study & understand the technical aspects of the game like the ‘ball flight laws’. Does he understand the equipment limitations or advantages that he uses ? I am not sure if family background helps other than providing more opportunities for education and golf training.  End of the day it’s the golfer himself whether he understands his game limitations and has the passion to devote time for learning and improvement.

Q: You have worked with golf course designing. Share that experience.

A: In 1998 I did help with laying out of Bogra golf course on a very small piece of land that was available, I understand it has turned out to be a good 9 Hole course now. When I was asked for Cox’s Bazar golf course, I insisted on getting a proper golf architect with experience and then we can negotiate on the other things. Again I took assistance of R&A to help me find an architect and we settled with Paul Jansen, a Canadian national, who has experience of working with Sir Nick Faldo in the UK for many years. On my part I did the resource mobilization and negotiated costs for Cox Bazar Golf Club. It will certainly be a very nice golf course when completed.

Q: Say something about your experience with turf management.

A: Turf management requires specialist people, while knowledge on agriculture helps due to some common ground like plant pathology but golf turf management is different. Those from agricultural science background can be trained up for this highly skilled technical area. In USA one would be   required to four-year BSc on turf, MSc on turf. Micah Woods who occasionally has been helping BGF on turf related issues has a Phd on turf. A very experienced golf superintendent and now a consultant once told me that there are multiple skills required to be an effective golf course superintend. We have learned few skills specially at KGC but there is lot more to learn to learn if we are to improve on golf course turf quality and this cannot be done locally without the full time assistance for an expatriate expert. In the region a good example would be ‘Royal Golf Club Kolkata’ which has completed changed after they engaged an American expert on multi-year contract for course management. Look at some of the good golf courses in this region, grass growth density is very high letting the ball to sit up which results in a very good lie, providing the mental comfort to the player.

Brig_Gen_Salim_Akhtar_are_from_Chittagong_but_I_grew_in_Pakistan_because_my_father_was_in_the air force_TheGolfHouse
Brig Gen Salim Akhtar are from Chittagong but I grew in Pakistan because my father was in the air force TheGolfHouse

Q: Do you think golf has the potential to become the second biggest sport in Bangladesh by 2025?

A: It’s good to have a vision, however to get results we have to spread out the base in form of school programs at the district level, may be a few with trainers to start, for the vision to be realized. With everything in place it will take 8-10 years to realize that dream. Some years back we did try to introduce the game in BKSP. We progressed halfway through, but then it stalled.

Q: Any word of advice for our magazine?

A: I have been surprised at the quality that you have been able to maintain with little or no existence of golf related industry who generally provide support. When you came to me initially, I discouraged because I thought it would not be commercially viable. But despite a lot of limitations, you have maintained a high quality with which I am more than happy.

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