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     Volume 9 Issue 8 | February 19, 2010|

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Special Feature

Rub of the Green

Syed Zain Al-Mahmood

Success story: Bangladesh made a clean sweep of the golf event at the SA Games.

Everything came down to the final two putts on the final hole of the final round. The tension at the Kurmitola Golf Course was almost palpable as two young golfers battled it out for individual gold in the 11th South Asian Games. Both Bangladeshi, both prodigiously talented, they had earlier left their international opponents floundering in the dust to set up an all-Bangladeshi final. Jamal Hossain Molla had begun the day four strokes in the lead. But his friend and national teammate Dulal Hossain had always been a magnificent putter.

The crowd gathered round the 18th hole craned forward as Dulal lined up his shot. The 19-year-old knelt on the green, squinting as he visualised the putt. Then in one smooth flowing movement, he swung his club, and etched his name in the history books.

Dulal finished with eleven under par 277 to win the gold in the 72-hole individual event while Jamal claimed the silver scoring eight under par 280 and Zakiruzzaman took the bronze with five under par 283. The success completed a clean sweep of the golfing events for Bangladesh.

Earlier, the Bangladeshi team brushed aside personal tragedy to claim the team event gold at the Kurmitola Golf Course. Jamal Hossain Mollah, Dulal Hossain and Sakhawat Hossain Sohel had started the day in the lead, when they were rocked by news of the death of Sohel's father.

“Sohel Bhai received the news of his father's death just before we started to play,” says Zakir. “He had called to ask his parents' Dua. It was a very difficult moment.”


But Sohel kept his emotions in check to turn in a magnificent performance. Jamal led from the front by scoring 137 seven under par in a gold winning team effort of 422 ten under par. Dulal also finished with 141 three under par and Sohel finished with 144 at par. The fourth member of the team Zakiruzzaman scored 145.

It wasn't just the win. Nor was it simply the ever-changing storyline. The many subtexts added to the occasion, too. Rags to riches success stories are not common in Bangladesh, but the meteoric rise of Dulal, Jamal and Zakir who started as ball boys at Kurmitola is just one such classic tale.

Jamal, who hails from Kishoreganj came to Kurmitola Golf Club at the tender age of 10 and started working as a ball boy -- carrying golf balls and collecting lost balls from the fairway. “I worked as ball boy for a few years before becoming a caddie,” recalls Jamal Hossain. “I fell in love with golf. I used to dream of becoming a golfer like Tiger Woods.”

Soon the boys had the opportunity to live their dream. They honed their skills through years of watching accomplished players and endless practice “We basically started at the same time,” says Zakir. “We were allowed to play on off days. Gradually, we got better, and the club officials took note.”

“The club arranged for us to play in the tournaments,” adds Dulal. “They brought in coaches, arranged sponsors. We went to play in championships in India, China and South Korea. We always did well.”

Jamal Hossain Molla

Sitting on the terrace overlooking the fairway, Dulal, Jamal and Zakir reflect on the long way they have traveled. “We were humble ball boys,” says Zakir. “We were not allowed to come up here and sit with the players. God has been kind. We are grateful to our parents for their encouragement and especially to the club for its support.”

Major (Retd) Anis-ul-Islam, Executive Officer of the Kurmitola Golf Club describes the years of effort that went into creating such a team of champions. “We spotted the talent early on,” says Anis. “But it was a question of polishing these raw diamonds. It is a sad fact that there is very little government sponsorship in golf. But a lot of corporate entities come to us to arrange tournaments. I always encouraged them to invest in coaching programmes for young players as part of their corporate social responsibility. Happily, one of our sponsors, Gemcon Group responded positively.”

Helped by Gemcon, Kurmitola Golf Club brought in coaches from India and the UK to coach a batch of ten young players. Dulal, Jamal and Zakir were among them. Soon the precocious youngsters began to fulfill their promise. But the battle was only just beginning.

“We needed good equipment, and international exposure,” says Zakir. “The club helped find sponsors for us. Gemcon sponsored Dulal, while Jamal and I have been supported by Runner Group and Radiant Group respectively. When you consider how expensive golf equipment is, and the fact that you have to pay $400 as caddie fees at an international event, I think it is safe to say we couldn't have done it without our sponsors.”

Dulal Hossain

Perhaps nobody should be surprised that the trio had so much success. They eat drink and breathe golf. “It is a matter of great pride to see these young boys from humble backgrounds achieve so much,” says S M Ali, an avid golfer and veteran member of Kurmitola Golf Club. “They fully deserve their success. Many of us have been playing golf for years. But it is almost impossible to match their hard work and dedication to golf. Such success stories can only be good for sports in this country.”

The Kurmitola Golf Club has a history of standing behind gifted youngsters. Club officials were instrumental in nurturing talents like Siddiqur Rahman, Bangladesh's first professional golfer, who has won prizes in most golf tournaments in Southeast Asia.

"With the support of our sponsors and assistance from the R&A, golf's governing body, we hope to push ahead with our coaching and support programmes," says Major (Retd) Anis. "Hopefully the government will also come forward now to popularise golf."

Dulal, Jamal and Zakir agree that golf suffers from a snobby, elitist image in Bangladesh. It's hard to convince some people, both within and outside the sport that golf isn't just for rich retirees.

“The handicap system actually makes it one of the most levelling sports around,” says Zakir. “Golf may not be the most physically demanding game, but it is mentally demanding. It keeps you alert.”

“You'll walk 8 to 9km on average on an 18-hole golf course,” adds Jamal, “so it's excellent exercise. There's no reason why golf shouldn't be very popular in this country.”

Dulal, Jamal and Zakir hope their success will finally put golf on the map in Bangladesh.

The challenge for the “fearsome threesome” is to continue to fulfill their promise, and to bring home even bigger honours. They are certainly under par for the job.





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