When Shem landed in the United States of America in 1996 he immediately embarked on building a career in Information Technology. And for 20 years, Shem stayed focused building a successful career after attaining a Bachelors degree in Computer Information Systems and a Masters degree in Policy Studies, a journey that saw him work for blue chip companies like AT&T.
Then in 2004, he was introduced to golf, a move that would radically change his life. First, he ditched soccer and tennis. Two years later, he spearheaded an initiative to form a golfing club for Kenyans living in Atlanta. And as his love for golf deepened, Shem would soon find himself at the United States Golf Teachers Federation where he trained as a golf Coach. Armed with invaluable knowledge and experience, he came back home in 2016 and set up the Shem Golf Academy in Nakuru and that’s when he came face to face with the reality that’s the Kenya’s golf scene.
He spoke to T-OFF News on his vision and the need for a radical surgery in golf management in Kenya.
How was your golfing experience in the US? At what level did you play?
I started golf around 2004. In 2006 I and other Kenyans in Atlanta, came together to form a Kenyan club – Jamhuri Classic. As we grew we inspired and mentored other Kenyans in other cities to form clubs, specifically in Birmingham AL, Memphis NC, and Durham NC. Golf became a passion in the process and I enjoyed introducing golf to new people. This is where I developed the love for teaching the game. I decided to take a course on coaching because I knew I also wanted to do something with golf when I got back to Kenya.
What does it take for one to be a certified Coach?
Most people are familiar with PGA golf teachers. What they don’t understand is that for you to become a PGA professional (which is different from a PGA Tour player) one has to take a four- year degree. They learn everything about golf, from teaching, course superitendancy (green keeping), golf management, club repair, among many other fields that there are in golf. However, there are people who don’t want to learn everything about golf. Personally, I just wanted to become a better teacher. So I went to USGTF (United States Golf Teachers Federation). IT was and intensive course where we were taught aspects like the laws of ball flight, fundamentals of the game, techniques and different ideologies on teaching golf. At the end of the training we took four exams; a written test on teaching the game, rules of golf, a practical teaching lesson on the range and the Player Ability Test (P.A.T) to demonstrate that you can play and apply the skills.
What was your golf vision when relocating to Kenya? Have you realized it?
I had two plans when I came to Kenya- to be a farmer and to teach golf. It’s been a challenging journey but I am making strides. With golf, I have learned that the first major thing that needs to happen is to change people’s minds. We have to change how they look at golf and once we develop a global view of golf, then as a country can make progress. This motivated me to start my YouTube channel to encourage Kenyans to embrace the value of coaching. In the process, I hope to help demystify golf and inspire others to take up the game – especially juniors and women.
My goal is to have a full-fledged golf academy in Kenya. I also want to have branches of Shem Golf Academy all over East Africa where I will train coaches and they run the academies following a very consistent and special philosophy and curriculum.
Golf Coaching remains underdeveloped or even neglected in Kenya. Why is it so and how is this affecting the development of the game?
This is a touchy subject and I always get in trouble when I talk about it. There is a big misconception about coaching mainly perpetuated by the pros in Kenya through the Professional Golfers of Kenya, PGK. Kenyans have been made to believe that to be a golf teacher you must be a pro and member of PGK. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teaching is a calling. One does not need to have played at a high level to be a teacher. So this has restricted the development of people who might just want to teach. So playing pros play a triple role- playing pro, teaching pro and club pro and this has really affected the development of the game at every level. Being a good player does not mean one can be a good teacher. Those who might have been interested in simply being golf coaches had their paths blocked. This needs to change. If we can correct the misconceptions people have, we can now start building capacity and Kenyan golfers can start appreciating the value of coaching. The relevant bodies need to have specific programs to build capacity in coaching.
What is your opinion on the state of the game of golf in Kenya both at the amateur and professional levels?
There are many great ball strikers in Kenya at both levels. Most are self-made and they truly don’t appreciate the value of coaching especially on the critical aspects of the short game. They have little or no exposure to the ideas that can sharpen their mental game or performance. This is why we fail when we get to the big stage.
Playing on Safari Tour in the last season taught me a lot. I now fully understand the plight of the Kenyan golf pro. I understand their pain and struggles like I never did before. And I can now push for their cause and hopefully, people will understand and embrace the Kenyan pro and give them the support they need to excel. But most importantly, I hope we can improve the perspective of golf management in this country. There won’t be much growth if the relevant bodies don’t embrace a progressive view of the game and embrace the changes that are needed to raise the game at every level.
Drawing from the level of coaching and academies development in US and South Africa, what should Kenya do in the short term and long term to catch up?
We need to understand the golf industry in totality and start developing capacity for each area. For instance, things like equipment repair and green keeping, the relevant bodies should engage our universities, colleges and technical colleges. If they can get just one institution to create programs in these fields we can start having qualified golf professionals. Same for coaching, people need to understand that there are several paths to acquire certification. We need more facilities, especially public investments, so that we can introduce more people to the game. If facilities like the Kasarani golf project or Lenana School project can be realized that would be a good start. Each county needs to invest in golf while the government needs to realize their ideas about getting golf to schools. Can you imagine how many golf teachers, green keepers, equipment repair professional we will need and the impact on the economy this would have. That’s how the country should move golf from fringe activity to an industry and make golf contribute significantly to the country’s GDP.
I have had the pleasure of serving as a Trustee of Junior Golf Foundation, JGF. My experience there revealed that there are many people who are not keen on new ideas. We need golf administrators who are visionary, people who understand sports management and who see the potential of golf. Further, clubs need to embrace junior golf. My experience in the US taught me that excellence in sports is nurtured. Children need to get specialized training from a very young age. To produce world class sportsmen (not just in golf) the country needs to invest in specialized academies and craft a curriculum that allows kids to nurture their talent.