It’s nearly 7,500km from Accra to Weybridge but nothing was stopping Ghana’s Nicholas Amoah from attending our conference at MercedesBenz World. The general manager at Tema Country Golf Club tells Steve Carroll why he joined the GCMA and why he’s determined to improve golf in his country…
Tema Country Golf Course Found in Greater Accra, the course first opened in 1957 and boasts “country club quality greens and beautiful practice areas”. At 5,680 yards, five minutes drive from the Tema Motorway – Ghana’s first motorway – the course is renowned for both its ponds and its warm welcome. Offering a stern test, thanks to its sandy nature, the beautifully manicured greens – transformed from browns half a decade ago – are one of the major attractions of a round at Tema.
Is golf a popular sport in Ghana?
We are in Africa and golf is not naturally a game that the majority of the population are playing. A lot of people are looking to watch football, which is the sport that dominates the world. Golf is naturally picking up in Ghana and gradually we are developing. In my area, we have about four golf courses.
How big is your area? Tema has the biggest golf course in Ghana – it’s 18-holes and, in terms of structure, we are the biggest golf course. But Achimota is a course that has had a facelift. It’s a course that was built by Paul McGinley and that has naturally lifted up the standard in our area but Tema has that potential to become the best golf course in West Africa.
Given football’s dominance, how did you become a golf club manager? How did you get into the sport?
Golf’s not a game that anyone would have as a first game to love (in Africa). Obviously, we watch football – you participate, you play football – but when sports are on TV you find they are showing golf. A lot of Africans look up to Tiger Woods, and that brought that sort of interest for people to see how a black guy in that contest is playing that game. It has brought a lot of people and their attention to golf. I wasn’t into golf. I was in telecommunications. What happened was that my boss played golf. At three o’clock, he picks up his bag and is going on a golf course. I was kind of wondering where he was going.
There were a couple of meetings that we had to go and have on a golf course and, anytime I went there, I saw a lot of people. I said ‘what kind of game is that where you see a lot of people?’ Especially the elite and managers, CEOs and people like that. It was a place where you had a lot of networking. That made me interested to know what golf was all about.
Fortunately, one time I went to the golf course and I was told there was a vacancy for an assistant manager. I said ‘wow’. So I told my boss I really wanted to experience this and I wanted to apply for the job. He looked at me and smiled. I applied for the job and got it. I was assistant manager for about five years. My immediate boss passed away and I acted for about six months before being promoted to become the manager. I have been doing that for the past six years.
So it was just by chance?
Yes. I developed a passion for it and the reason why I am actually a member of the GCMA is that I realised that, with golf in Ghana, we don’t have that sort of opportunity or a facility where people get developed – in terms of education – or try to educate themselves and have that experience when it comes to golf management. There’s nothing like that. Our greenkeepers are usually employed from being a professional golfer and I always thought ‘no, that’s not a qualification’.
Obviously, you need to be properly trained and go through a lot of education to be a greenkeeper. I said to myself ‘I want to make a difference’ so that made me search and search and I found out about the GCMA and quickly I registered to become a member.
I was in dire need of wanting to know the next opportunity I could be able to come and start having a basic education in golf management. Last year, I got the opportunity to attend an introduction (the Principles of Golf Club Management course) and that was a massive ten for me. I got to meet a lot of managers and it took me to a different level.
You’d been in management a long time before you joined that course. Did you feel your knowledge increased a lot just by going on it?
Yes. I realised that there were a lot of things that I didn’t know and I was taking a lot of things for granted. I will tell you one thing. Health and safety wasn’t something that was so very important in that part of my world. But after attending the introduction course, I realised this was something I had to take important notice of. Health and safety is very important. I learned a lot during that time and when I went back I had to put certain things in place about how our caddies should position themselves when golfers are hitting balls and so on. It took me from that lower level and, I can tell you, it has taken me up now.
Do you feel almost like you are bringing this knowledge to golf in Ghana?
Exactly so and it is my dream that I become the first certified golf course manager in my country. There are none – none like that in my country – and I really want to do this. It has been my dream and I really want to push. Sometimes, when I come over here, I see a lot of facilities around and I see a lot of things that I can learn. I wish that I had the opportunity to be able to stay here for a longer period – say two or three years – and get to equip myself with as much as I can learn and then go back and try to impart that knowledge. Of course, there is a process to everything and I am taking it step-by-step.
This must be a massive commitment for you – to attend the introduction course, go on the Diploma this year and attend national conference – both in time and financially. So what drives you to come here?
I have the love for it so I don’t mind the time. What I am doing is not club supported. I usually fall on the assistance of some of the senior members of my club who have seen the potential in me and some of them are helping me out in terms of my travel coming over here. What drives me more is that passion and the love I have developed for the game. What drives me more is the vision I see of what we can take golf to in my area. I feel like we can also get to that level where we can host a European Tour or PGA Tour tournament in Ghana. That’s where I am looking and that’s what is driving me to take these steps.
Yes. I have been to a few courses and some of the managers who I’ve met at training invited me to come to their courses and I took the opportunity to visit some of them. I was so impressed by what I saw. I played quite a few rounds and, in terms of management, it is quite different from what we have back in Ghana. They have much better facilities. The greens are different and all that. It’s a learning curve for me and I am taking it step-by-step going forward.
What are some of the challenges of being a golf club manager in Ghana compared with the UK?
Back in Ghana, the whole management of a golf club is centred around the captain and what the captain can do. Sometimes they move the attention from what the staff and the management staff of the club are doing. Here, there is a lot of opportunity for the managers, a lot of commitment from the managers and they are always working the hours to make sure they are able to succeed. Back in Ghana, much of the attention is on the club executives.
There’s probably a lot that’s very similar between the two countries as well. Do members complain about the greens, the price of food and so on?
Someone said that golfers are one and the same – they tend to complain. They’ll come back and talk about the greens, the drains and the services. Of course, it is important as a manager that you must listen more and speak less. They will come and complain but you must listen and look at how you will be able to satisfy your members. It is very important. Losing members is always one of the hard things that you go through as a club manager. When the complaints come, you listen and see how you are going to improve your services to members.
Do you want to change how golf is perceived in Ghana or do you see your future internationally as part of the GCMA?
One of reasons I am doing what I am doing is to help my country develop in golf. That’s my aim. Obviously, you have the opportunity to work internationally and you want to do that but I look at it more as taking in Ghana to a different level. I believe that I can do it if I am able to go through all this education and I have a lot of experience.
What do you think is the most important thing you have learned so far from your experiences with the GCMA?
At Conference, I met people I haven’t met on previous visits and I have seen that software also goes with golf course management – that’s something I haven’t actually come across before. I try to search and see what could be good for my club but then I realised it would also make my work more efficient and at a fast pace. It’s something that is really helpful.
Is it nice to be able to draw on that sense of community that’s so important within the GCMA? There’s always someone at the end of an email for you now…
Of course. The people here are very good people. Everybody wants to assist you, especially when they know you’ve come from afar. Everybody is friendly and has opened their arms to you. They want you to come and see what they are doing and so it has been good.