Former Australian amateur golf team captain Roger Hunt is a volunteer on a grand mission. He is determined to lift Cambodian golf from its infancy and change its culture in a way that would make the game more accessible and affordable, not just for the present stock of youngsters but the generations to come.
Hunt’s association with Cambodian golf began five years ago when he offered to share his vast experience with the fledgling Cambodian Golf Federation as an adviser.
In his own words, “nothing much happened in the first four’’. But things this year have been different.
“It is beginning to look up. The CGF started this Junior Development Trust in July this year. As chief instructor of this program, I am now conducting weekly clinics for around two dozen youngsters in the age bracket of five and 17,” Hunt told the Post in an exclusive chat at the Federation’s driving range on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
“Some of these boys and girls had never seen a golf course before. But there is so much promise in them that I am optimistic about their future. They are continually improving, which is a very good sign.
“The trainees are given free equipment and they get the lessons free. What I am doing is to help them develop in three phases – learn, play and compete.”
The Roger Hunt philosophy is simple. “Our aim is to build golf generally, not make Tiger Woods,” he said.
“I have a time frame of six to eight months for some of these youngsters in this program to make the next step.”
Hunt, who coyly admits that he was never better than a three to five handicap player, led Australian teams in Eisenhower Trophy and Nomura Cup international amateur events during his nine-year run as captain. Having seen the rise of some of the best Australian amateurs, such as Aaron Baddley, Mark Leishman and Marcus Fraser, Hunt has a sharp eye when it comes to spotting talent.
“Lee Sora for example is a girl who will go far,” he said. “She is Korean-Khmer and has a good natural swing. There are a couple of other boys and girls who are showing promise of improvement, but what I have to think about is their next stage, which is to create on-course playing opportunities for them.”
As a country that saw its first golf course take shape as recently as 1996, golf is still beyond the reach of 90 per cent of the Cambodian population given the prevalent economic climate and social factors impacted by it.
It is imperative, Hunt argues, that the boys and girls currently in this development initiative should be given affordable access to golfing equipment.
“Right now we are talking to golf clubs around the country to work out a way where these youngsters can get playing time. Many countries have their own golf academies, but in the Cambodian context the talk of an academy is too early,” said Hunt.
“[Golf’s governing body the Royal and Ancient] has been generous in providing us equipment, but we still need more drivers and we are short on putters too. This is where sponsorship comes into play. We need sponsors to keep us going.”
The key to success, according to Hunt, is in numbers. What Cambodia needs is more and more youngsters, especially in the age group of 12 to 16, coming into the game.
A well-respected name in the R&A circles, Hunt is prepared to do anything in his powers to literally swing the Cambodian golf fortunes.
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]