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Roger Sali never intended to take up golf. Now, he coaches Uganda’s children about the game he loves.
Sali, who has become something of an Instagram sensation, tours Uganda, the east African nation that borders Rwanda, bringing golf to communities who have never heard of the sport, let alone picked up a club.
Until a few years ago, Sali was in the same boat, having never played the game which is regarded as a sport for exclusively rich men in his country.
That was until the untimely passing of his father, leaving Sali needing to provide for his family. When a friend suggested trying out as a caddie at the local golf club, it was the perfect opportunity to make some money.
A full season of looping led to Sali wanting to take the game up, initially to help his skills on the other side of the bag. But, after practicing, he found a natural affinity for the sport, as he explained to bunkered.co.uk.
“My friends told me I am talented. They told me that many people struggle to get good at golf after many years, but I put in a lot of hard work.
“I started to watch videos on YouTube and Instagram and going to the range to try and copy their swings. If you have a good swing, you can be consistent and it’s easier to play well.
“I started to play golf in 2020. The pandemic started but that was a good time for me to practice the game because there weren’t many other players on the golf course. It’s not that I knew about golf before, I needed a job, but I started to play and fell in love with the game.”
While his own game is impressive, with Sali saying he can break 80 on a good day, it’s his coaching which has endeared him to a global audience.
The 26-year-old has taken it upon himself to travel to schools around his native Uganda, to teach the game to pupils.
Fitting this into a schedule which now involves working as the caddie master at Lake Victoria Serena Golf Course, Sali usually manages one trip per week.
“I told my friend, ‘Why don’t we go to schools and try to introduce golf to kids?’ I talked to the teachers and reached out to a school, and to our surprise, they allowed it.
“We bought some balls and some clubs and we went there to the school and started explaining to them about the game, about how this game isn’t just for rich people and how they can also try it out. We wanted to teach them about the opportunities they can get with it. They were very happy to be playing something new.
“Sometimes we have challenges. We need transport, we want to buy prizes for the kids. Sometimes it’s hard, but whatever we can do, we do it. Prizes, transport, accommodation, we usually pay for this ourselves.”
Sali has also benefitted from a gofundme page set up for him, which he uses to fund transport to schools and prizes for his new students.
While he doesn’t get paid for the work, that doesn’t bother him. A love for the sport that gave him a lifeline in a difficult period of his life is motivation enough to spend his free time travelling the country.
“No one pays me, some people donate money, but I just do this to teach the children. It’s just because of my passion.
“Most of the kids, wherever I go, they say they have never seen a golf club before. By the time we leave, they are always happy.
“When I hit a ball, they are very excited to even see it go in the air. It’s the same when we do putting challenges with the mat, they don’t want you to leave. I think we have many talented golfers here, but without many golf courses, it’s difficult for them to play.
“It’s only for passion. I love doing it and I love the game of golf. I’ve already made lots of great friends through golf, which is amazing, because they are well educated and they can help you.”
As Sali explains, Uganda is far from a hotbed for golf courses. In a country with a population of over 45 million people, there’s fewer than ten regulation courses. He understands his pupils might never make a living from the game, but to him, that isn’t the point.
“I love to go to communities and help people to learn to play. I want to do this all the time but I don’t get paid, it’s all for the passion of the game. On my days off, that’s what I do.
“Now, if no one is helping me, I can’t buy expensive things. I just buy cheap things like pens or pencils to give out to a few kids, it gives them motivation.
“You don’t know where these kids are going to be in two or three years. I want to be able to give them this knowledge. It’s good for the brain. If a kid is able to concentrate on golf for two hours, it’s very good for them.”
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