International co-operation secures brighter futures for Uganda’s youngsters

Written by Nicole Wheatley

Golf and community are two words that are often neatly positioned in sentences describing the benefits of the game and the way that we support one another. Sometimes these are throw-away statements, but recently I came across an unparalleled example of how the global golf community does come together during an international Zoom call in support of one man and his personal mission to improve young people’s lives through golf.

Isaiah Mwesige is attempting to give young Ugandans the same life experience that he has enjoyed thanks to golf. His story is compelling in its own right. When a friend told Isaiah he could earn good money by becoming a caddie at the local – and I use that term broadly – golf club, he jumped at the chance. Even back then aged 14 Isaiah’s ambition and hard work was evident, and he quickly became an ‘artisan’ which qualified him to play golf, for free in return for carrying out small jobs to help maintain the course.

It’s easy to understand how this young man’s spirit captured the hearts and minds of the golfers at The Toro Club, where he worked. He is determined, joyful and passionate. When the Toro Club needed someone to look after the course maintenance, it was decided that they would help Isaiah gain the agronomy qualifications he would need to take on that role. Although he couldn’t have known it at the time, this was the first step in the journey that led him to create the Academy he now runs in Fort Portal, where golf and education are being offered to local children.

The Founder of AFRIYEA Golf Academy. Isaiah Mwesige

The AFRIYEA Golf Academy is unlike any establishment we see in countries where golf is well-established. The Academy delivers free programs that address the specific needs of the underprivileged youths and children who live in the proximity of the Academy itself. So, as well as offering free golf tuition, Isaiah’s team delivers basic education, life skills and environmental education. A subject very close to Isaiah’s heart.

“Working in isolation has probably been a huge advantage for AFRIYEA,” commented Australian Sandy Jamieson, Founder of 1 Club a simple coaching system for beginners, “Whilst it must be frustrating to feel like he’s the only person campaigning for these youngsters, he also has the freedom to make the right decisions for them. That’s what makes his program so successful and so inspiring to the people he meets.”

And it is successful. Most recently AFRIYEA organised the ‘Kids Connect’ golf tournament, an enormous juniors’ event. Now in its second year, the tournament brings children together to enjoy the game of golf, network, establish lifelong friendships, and share their academic experiences. The tournament attracted the participation of players ranging from 4 years – 18 years of all abilities and gender.

Rob Bernard Founder of Center of Gravity Golf from Edmonton, Alberta Canada has been a PGA Pro for 25 years. Rob was provided equipment for the Academy as well as coaching for the children and AFRIYEA’s coaches. “No matter where you are in the world, beginners all face the same issues. The speed at which beginners become competent is really important. Children especially want to feel like they are progressing and getting better, which is why we have helped Isaiah by supporting the coaching staff. The joy that these children and their parents get from being involved in golf is inspiring.”

Perhaps golf’s future stars can be found in the youth of AFRIYEA Academy.

Another international supporter is Keoni Carew, owner of Keoni Carew Golf. Although she is based on the other side of the world from Uganda, she is taking her life experiences and applying them to golf just like Isaiah did. “As one of the only female golf business owners of colour I want to inspire young women like me to work in the industry and play golf,” she explains. “My story is capturing interest here in the US and I am determined to include the work we have been doing with AFRIYEA in any of the content that is created. The support that AFRIYEA provides for these youngsters is so important and has the potential to empower and change the futures of an entire generation.”

There are many ways in which people around the world have been helping AFRIYEA, whether that is with time and expertise, raising the profile of the Academy or through fundraising. You see, AFRIYEA struggles to get support from official channels because they fall through the gaps. Golf is very young in Africa and even younger in Uganda – believe it or not but 1961 was when the Ugandan Golf Union started! There is no Ugandan PGA, meaning that the great players in the region leave to train and never return.

Leighton Walker, General Manager of Cirencester Golf Club and host of the Golf Club Talk podcast in the UK has been helping AFRIYEA and raising money for them for longer than most. “Isaiah is one of the most interesting people I’ve met in golf,” he explains. “He has created a really unique venue where there is no cynicism about golf. The kids are so upbeat and the impact that the Academy has on their lives is plain to see. When they are there, they get the chance to be kids and to access education, which means that they directly benefit from our actions and support.”

AFRIYEA Academy provides a lot of smiles for local Ugandan youth.

So, what does the future hold? AFRIYEA is branching out. There are no other golf academies in East Africa so Isaiah has aspirations of making AFRIYEA the principal golf academy on the continent by spreading its wings. The second incarnation of AFRIYEA is already open, 450 miles away at Masindi Golf Club in Midwestern Uganda, and in 2023 the 3 rd Annex of the Academy will open at Morogoro Golf Club in Tanzania. The principle will be the same; to use golf to draw children in and give them the opportunities to thrive.

But it doesn’t stop there! “Africa needs to learn from the Asian continent which is said to have been on the same level as Africa is now just a few years ago,” comments Isaiah. “We are looking at realistic interventions that can reposition the continent of Africa to a degree that we will see players from across the continent featuring across the major tours around the world. I truly believe that this is possible and that one of those youngsters could be part of our Academy group right now.”

The only thing holding Uganda and Africa back in Isaiah’s opinion is the inadequacy of facilities for people of all abilities to access the game, and I believe more than ever that the entire globe has a role to play in shaping the game on the continent for the betterment of the game. The more talent we uncover the better the future of the sport will be, and with people like Isaiah championing the sport for people from all backgrounds I wouldn’t be surprised to witness the emergence of this juvenile golf nation in my lifetime.