By Pius Anakali
To many people, the idea of hosting golfers from across the country in a tournament tagged the ‘Unity Cup Golf Championship’ was an adventure; Others simply maintained the ‘siddon look’ posture. But to the man behind the dream, no hill can be too high.
He is broad-minded, a thinker and a doer. Anytime Dr. Meckson Innocent Okoro dreams, it must come to pass. Though it might take a while, and difficult atimes, as it is always the case on the golf course, it is the result that matters.
Okoro dreams unity, he dreamt oneness, he admires any opportunity to gather golfers from across the country as a unifying force. To achieve this, he came up with the idea of the ‘Unity Cup Golf Championship’. However, he also reasoned, “no matter how beautiful an idea is, it needs fund to succeed”.
In an economic climate where Covid-19 pandemic has dealt many individuals and corporate organizations huge blow, funding such unique idea is sure to be tough. However, Okoro found worthy partner in Polaris Bank Nigeria Limited, a financial force in Nigeria’s banking industry.
Golf, like every other sport, brings people together. In it, it does not matter whether you are black or white – from the North or South – Yoruba or Hausa, Igbo or Fulani; it matters not whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or even a traditionalist.
It cares less about your age; it does not matter whether you are young or old, come from a rich family or from a poor background. Once you step on the course, ‘you are a golfer’.
Golf has the power to change the world and unite people. Golf creates friendships between people who would not normally communicate.
The game does not have a language. It does not need words; the attraction is the bonding it creates. That was the dream Polaris Bank bought into and with the bank’s backing, Okoro set up a committee.
He found Peter Eben-Spiff, a former Lagos Open Champion; a Golfer with numerous other trophies to show for his prowess in the game to lead his Planning Committee. Tade Adekunle: experienced amateur and the current Golf Section’s Competition Secretary was with him on the Planning Committee, so also were others. Vice Captain, Tony Oboh. He was not only visible, but active.
Being a technical sport, MI, as the Captain is fondly called, brought in Falcon Golf Development Company, an agency that organizes and promotes golf.
Being the first of its kind, Okoro tells whoever cares to listen that that the Unity Cup; the committee Inaugural tournament, will be a huge success. Barely one month in office, putting together such event, was definitely a herculean task, but MI remained undaunted.
Well, with the machineries in motion, invitations were sent out to all clubs in the country. Invites went to as far as Kano, tJaji in Kaduna, Eket in Akwa-Ibom states. NAF Golf Club in Kaduna was not left out. Even golfers from Riverine Bonny Island were glad to be invited. Golfers from IBB International Golf and Country Club in Abuja led by its Captain, Sola Awoyungbo in company of Julius Fadairo flew in early. Alex Shaiyen and 9-handicap Austin Aigbotsua were in his team.
Expectedly, they all showed up for the mini golf festival. Okoro was happy, the guests were impressed. With the immense backing of Polaris Bank, the game was soon on auto-pilot.
But the most interesting thing was the race for the tournament’s coveted trophy; the first of its kind in Nigeria. Naturally, in an event of this nature, names like; Tim Ayomike, Remi Olukoya, Ewi Akpata always pops up. Atimes, it’s easy to predict where the leaderboard would be heading in a tournament of this nature. Yet, golf can be unforgiving. But when the god of golf smiles on you, every bad shot turns positive, doglegs become open fairway and every bad putt finds the Cup.
Golf is no respecter of name nor age, it has produced the least expected as champions and promoted the most unlikely winners across the globe.
Now, Rotimi Obajimi is not an unknown quantity in golf, not only in golf but in sports generally. He is a former athlete and former athletics coach; one that produced some of the most popular athletes of yesteryears. For most part of 2020, golf was the last thing on the mind of the man.
However, sometime in January, he returned to golf, looking very fit though. Of course being a former athlete, nothing less is expected.
He headed to the course early Saturday morning, happy and friendly as usual, hoping for a good day on the course. Playing off handicap-12, Obajimi cannot be discountenanced, yet not many gave him the chance of winning. After four hours on the course, Obajimi carded 81-gross score for 69-net. With the result, he became the man to beat. But by the time the last player holed out, no other golfer that came behind or before him could better his score. He won.
Everyone present was happy, the sponsors; Polaris Bank were elated, Okoro was impressed. “Ladies and Gentlemen”, Okoro roared into the dark dead night at the event’s closing ceremony. “It’s been a wonderful week”, he said at the well-attended gala night.
“When you look at this country today, you’ll notice that there are challenges bedeviling us a country. Thus, we felt we should also do something that will help unify this country. Our belief is that if you play golf with someone for four-to-five hours there will be some kind of bonding that goes beyond religion, region and ethnicity. If we all take this message home, then we would have achieved some form of unity that should be built on”, he urged everyone present to replicate the idea in their various clubs.
In his speech, the Chief Executive Officer of Polaris Bank, Mr. Innocent C. Ike was more forthcoming: “As a leading and innovative retail bank in Nigeria, we are excited to partner the Golf Section and by extension, Ikoyi Club 1938”, adding that, “for us at Polaris Bank, this partnership marks the beginning of a historic journey filled with opportunities and shared benefits. Apart from helping to forge national unity, we will leverage this tournament for brand visibility, bonding and networking amongst golfers from different clubs across Nigeria”, he stressed while also promoting family leisure and ultimately, social cohesion.
With the speeches over, the maiden Unity Cup Golf Championship came to a thrilling end. But the message of unity preached at the closing ceremony will continue to reverberate for time to come.