For many amateur golfers, the chance to win a few pounds off their friends and settle up over a drink in the bar afterwards is a major part of the game’s appeal.
As a practising Muslim, Amir Malik avoids those aspects of the game he loves, but that has not diminished his desire to get more people like him into the sport.
“The more I got into it the more I realised there was a big social culture and a big drinking culture associated with golf,” Malik told the PA news agency.
“You’ve got the famous 19th hole, there’s a lot of gambling involved and that didn’t sit right with me because I’m a practising Muslim, I pray five times a day.
“But having been bitten by the bug I was really intrigued to see how many Muslims would play this game and I wanted to create this environment where people would feel comfortable and wouldn’t have to compromise their values.”
Malik’s response was to set up the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) to host competitions and golf days across the country, a decision he made after the success of a charity fundraiser he organised two years ago at The Grove.
All 72 tickets sold out within 24 hours and within a week there was a waiting list of 90 people. “I realised there was an appetite out there,” he said. The event, pushed back to August 2020 due to Covid, raised £18,000.
This year the MGA staged the ‘Race to Arden’, a series of three events which culminated in the finale at the Forest of Arden and more are in the pipeline.
“The plans for next year are to go bigger and better,” Malik says. “We’ll go with the same format: Manchester, London and Birmingham and then a fourth tournament which will be a Ryder Cup-style format.
“The tournaments are designed to cater for the most competitive amateur to the social golfer so we have handicap categories (0-9, 10-17 and 18-plus) with stableford scoring.
“With the fourth event I’ll be looking to take the top four from each category and split them into north and south and have a two-day event with foursomes and singles.”
After also running sell-out taster sessions for women in Birmingham, Malik plans to hold more in eight cities across the UK and notes that Leeds Golf Centre is operated by a Muslim family.
“I genuinely think someone can play golf in a niqab,” he adds. “As long as they’ve got the right footwear there is no reason why they can’t hit a ball.”
It has not all been plain sailing however, Malik admitting that the MGA has been turned away from numerous venues and highlighting his own experiences of being made to feel uncomfortable when he does play.
“I find the more prestigious venue you go to, the funnier the looks you get, which is really sad,” Malik added.
“First and foremost they’re seeing a brown guy. Then they see a guy with a beard and think it’s a bit odd. Then you get looked at in terms of what gear you’re wearing, what clubs have you got, what car have you pulled in with.
“You can feel the intimidation from day one and some of the worst experiences I’ve had have been in the shops when you go in and it’s almost a case of, ‘What are you even doing here?’
“It’s not everywhere, but it happens. And it’s not until you go to the first tee and absolutely smash one down the middle of the fairway that they realise you can play a bit.
“But you always have that feeling of being watched and if you do something silly you’re going to get told off. I think positive steps are being made but the power is with too few people at the top and there is not enough being done collectively.
“We’ve been welcomed (by some clubs), some haven’t. Some are still very stuck in their ways. Trying to organise three events across the country that can accommodate 72 people on a shotgun start and asking for Halal food has almost been an impossible task. The lack of flexibility is incredible.”
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