Col Zahid Iqbal, Pakistan’s most qualified golf referee and tournament director, believes that the country needs to work hard to realize its true golfing potential
With new golf courses being established in various parts of the country and more and more players joining the sport, golf is finally taking off in Pakistan. The tournament circuit today is bigger than ever and the country now has almost 18,000 registered golfers – the biggest ever.
But despite the rapid growth at home, Pakistani golfers are yet to make their mark at the international level. No Pakistani player has ever really achieved any major title. The country’s biggest success at the international professional level came way back in 1998 when Taimur Hussain won the Myanmar Open, an Asian Tour event.
While Pakistani players remain an under-achieving lot, there is one golf official from the country who is going places these days.
Col Zahid Iqbal, a seasoned golfer who is secretary of the Sindh Golf Association (SGA), has established himself as the most qualified referee having recently passed the prestigious Tournament Administrator and Ruling (TARS) exam under the auspices of Royal and Ancient (R&A) at Saint Andrews last month.
In an interview with The News on Sunday, Col Zahid talks about his association with golf and what steps Pakistan should take to make their presence felt at the international level.
TNS: Please give us your brief profile as a golfer and golf official/referee.
Zahid Iqbal: I started golf in 1998 as Captain in Army at the Multan Golf Club. Since then I have been involved with this game as a player and official. As a senior golfer, I have represented Pakistan in international tournaments in Australia, Japan and Malaysia. I am an expert on turf and golf course management in Pakistan and have been attending seminars on this subject all over the world. I am an elected secretary of Sindh Golf Association and member of executive committee of Pakistan Golf Federation.
It was a few years ago that I started preparing to become a qualified referee since there are no such officials in Pakistan. During the last few years, I’ve passed several relevant exams with flying colours in places like Singapore and Scotland.
In 2019, I passed my Level-2 in Wales under R&A with 81% and finally appeared in Tournament Administrator and Ruling (TARS) exam under R&A at Saint Andrews last month when I got the honour of being the first Pakistani who qualified as R&A Tournament administrator and referee with 80% marks.
TNS: How was your experience during your recent R&A visit?
ZI: I don’t have words to describe the feeling. It was a dream come true. Apart from Level-3 exam there were seminars on different subjects related to golf tournament management and rules. I made the most of the experience, learning from instructors who are regarded among the best in the world.
TNS: How can Pakistan golf benefit from your experience?
ZI: By the Grace of God I have performed different duties at Asian Tour, European Tour’s Spanish Open and BMW Open, a PGA event, in London. On my visits to these major events, I’ve learned how to professionally organize tournaments. I implement whatever I’ve learned here in Pakistan. I organize seminars to teach and train officials of different clubs like tournament preparation, golf course marking/setup for championship and the art of marshaling to bring improvement in all areas of the game.
TNS: What do you think are the shortcomings in Pakistan golf?
ZI: We learned four games from the British — tennis, squash, cricket and golf. We ruled the world in squash for decades, we are the champions in cricket and we have won international events in tennis. But we have failed to achieve anything in international professional golf due to lack of quality courses, training and modern coaching techniques. In fact, we do not have any certified golf coach in Pakistan. To improve standards of golf we have to acquire the art of green-keeping, modern techniques of coaching and sponsorship for our top professionals to support them to go abroad and play to gain experience and qualify for different tours. It is not only my dream but my aim to watch Pakistani professionals on European and PGA tours.
TNS: How good a future do you think Pakistan golf has?
ZI: We have good natural talent in our upcoming young golfers both in boys and girls but remember golf is a very technical game. It’s like ballistic science. You have to move the ball in air with precision land it at the exact spot.
About 15 years ago only senior officers and executives would play golf but nowadays I find many young boys and girls not only playing golf but participating in tournaments. Pakistan Golf Federation is supporting and sending these youngsters abroad so that they learn and develop their confidence and win. PGF is acting like a launching pad. Last week PGF held the 1st Ladies Amateur International Golf Championship at Raya Golf club Lahore in which nine countries participated. These are good indicators and signs that golf is on the right track and improving in our country.
TNS: Please share your experience as referee at the recently-played Ladies international golf tournament in Lahore?
ZI: Well I have been involved in golf tournaments since almost last 25 years but I have never seen such a well-organized tournament where all foreign players were praising Pakistan. Every player and delegation was received by these dedicated ladies with flowers and smiles at the airport even at midnight or at dawn. All I would say is that all the members worked hard with dedication and that is why it was possible to start and end this ladies championship with perfection and professional touch.