ARUA. On a typical shinny Tuesday afternoon, one where many would be expected to rest under the shades as they wait for the sun set, as they are perhaps tired of the day’s scorch want to get a little or recount on the day’s activities, I was set for a pleasant shock and surprise!
An earlier appointment in the day with Mr Jimmy Matata, the Chairman of the west Nile golf club, at 4:15pm, I show up at the Club house on Weatherhead park lane, greeted with the buzz of activities both in and out of the club house, in my heart with the first impressions, I was convinced that Golf is back to town.
Members speak out
In the next 15 minutes of my time here, energized ladies and gentlemen, clad in their trademark Golf attire moved in and about, Golf kits, the chit-chats, the Cuddies and then on to the course, to start the game they missed for close to a decade.
Asked about this rapid turnaround of events, Mr Matata says it was a radical decision of members, “you are aware 8 years we didn’t play golf, members just decided to start, we increased membership fee from 150,000 to 250,000, we started mobilizing one by one because we have the data base of all members, and all of them responded very positively” the new chairman only elected and installed in 2018 recounts.
Apart from the beauty of the game, Matata says they want to restore the central beauty of the town that had “gone to the dogs” for a long time.
He painstakingly recalls the number of times people coming from Duruba and other parts of DR Congo with the intent to play golf would be bounced off; left with no option, those able would fly to play in Entebbe or Kitante because the Arua course had been turned to a grazing ground, a black spot, a death trap, etc depending on how bad one chose to call it.
He says the club was reduced to a paltry 16 members by last year 2017 but then smiling as if to express a sigh of relief He says in less than a month 50 members had registered; their current target is to hit 250
When we eventually decided to move onto the course, we could see the lot of active members moving about their business, I met one Ms Anne Hope Anguyo, who would later reveal she had only been a member for 3 weeks, she shows me around her neatly acquired set of golf kits; for her being a member of the golf club is much more than just active playing.
“Yes this is a good form of “working-out” and offers a great platform for interaction but most importantly as a business woman you just don’t want to sit there in your corner but interact and get new ideas and network” she says.
Despite previously not being a member, she says it was such a pity seeing the place in a sorrow state in the 8 year absence of the game.
Mr Patrick Alioni, a businessman and veteran journalist in arua town is the man I meet next, having been a member more than 20 years, he recalls joining the club when it was mostly the group of senior civil servants and NGO workers at the helm in what he says were the clubs best days.
Mr Joe Aritua, Mr Omar Olema and Mr Darwin Dawa are some of the names he can’t erase from his memory.
He is grateful the Visionary aging members at that time came up with a program to recruit the young people so that the game would carry on even when they left active playing.
Alioni remembers playing Badminton at the white Rhino Hotel and tennis at Anyafio, near the now Luxurious Golden Courts hotel, all under the stewardship of the West Nile golf club.
“At one time, the golf course was ranked second best to Kitante in the country with many competitions pouring to the course” he recounts; No wonder perhaps Chairman Matata says the Course is the only surviving in the whole of the greater Northern Uganda.
Ms Joyce Aritua, daughter to the legendary golfer is arguably the longest female active member on the course, introduced by her father Mr Aritua; she believes there is no reason the female folk should shy away from the game; she is quick to assert that golf is not for the rich as is the common belief among many.
Despite the numerous challenges facing the new administration that include wear and tear of machines, trespassing among others, Chairman Matata says the future looks bright.
“We want to start nurturing talent of the children because this is what West Nile is known for, we have a lady Ms Sukran Sebbi on a full sponsorship at Ndejje University just because of Tennis and we want to get more” he says.
Matata says the next focus will be to tame corporate companies to join the game. Arua municipality and Arua hill division by press time had made commitments to provide fuel so the course can be neatly maintained; the arrangements are only set to be finalized, he narrates.
As we conclude the interviews on course and head back to the club house, the sight of the fleet of cars, the social members sipping their cold drinks and the boys roasting meat (Muchomo) is a reality I find hard to comprehend considering how disorganized this place had become with its additional woos caused by the botched deal with NSSF.
About the club
Mr Joe Aritua, now a member of trustees of the club and probably one of the most decorated members in the club’s history says, the club was formed in the 1930’s mainly in a bid to meet the colonial masters interests.
He began as cuddy and joined the Club full time in 1949 under the watchful eyes of the British bosses and some Asians; Mr. Aritua recalls the original composition of the club land covered what is now Arua hill grounds, areas as far as the Slumber land hotel in junior quarters, the Total fuel station and the former court house.
He recalls the club reverted to the local leadership in the 1972 after the expulsion of Asians.
“From 1972 we started playing seriously, golfers like Micheal Popo, Adutia, Mohamed, Omar Olema, John Mayanja the chief Magistrate, Dan Nsereko, Omar Bashir and many other young people joined hands to sustain the club operations” he recounts.
At its height, he says the course had what was called the Nile open, a national tournament that attracted many participants from across the country; Members at the club also took part in different tournaments across the country under the Uganda Golf Union (UGU).
Aritua says there have been attempts to grab the golf course that members have rigorously thwarted.
“People have been crazy about this place, I remember in the 1970’s when the government wanted to establish a national hospital at the golf course land, but we put up a spirited fight and talked to President Amin who was himself a sportsman and we were able to convince him to abandon the plan, unfortunately many of the golf courses were lost completely to other investments or heavily encroached on” he says.
With the 1979 war, activities of the club were disrupted but the fighting spirit of the members continued thus the course was brought back after.
Fast forward to 2018, Aritua is now pleased with the current batch of young leaders after what he called a mess with the National social security Fund (NSSF) in which there was no active golf, and wants the members to defend the golf heritage at all cost.
Despite being disabled from active golf from a number of injuries he sustained, he speaks passionately about returning to the course to mentor his juniors.