The Azerbaijan Golf Federation may have only been established two years ago, but in that short time it has already made great strides in promoting golf in a country which is seemingly ready to embrace the sport.
Under the auspices of its visionary President, Anar Mammadov – who also owns this week’s host venue, The National Azerbaijan Golf Club – the Federation has grand plans to introduce what was previously an alien sport to the masses, with the ultimate aim of hosting a European Tour event in the country.
But for now, the Federation is concentrating all its efforts on growing the game at grass roots level, and to that end it has already opened the first of what is hoped will be many junior academies in the country’s capital, Baku.
According to the Federation’s General Secretary, Nigar Suleymanova, to date the Federation has reached out to more than 2,000 children through its junior programme, taking in visits to over 100 schools.
With more golf clubs due to be unveiled next year – at present, The National is the only 18-hole course in existence in Azerbaijan – the future for golf in the ‘Land of Fire’ looks very bright indeed.
Suleymanova said: “We’ve built the Federation up from scratch, because golf is a very new sport in Azerbaijan. We started out with the country’s first golf club here in Quba, and at least one more will be opening near to Baku airport next year. We will also have another nine-hole course with practice facilities and a driving range opening up in Baku, so we have already made great progress.
“In September 2013, we introduced golf to the curriculum at one school in Baku, so every week the pupils spend at least one hour playing and learning about the game. And in June this year we had our first tournament here at The National Azerbaijan Golf Club, with 54 amateurs from all across the world. It was a great success, and we are planning to host many more in the coming years.”
With golf returning to the Olympic Games in two years’ time, the Federation is hoping to capitalise on the increased exposure that the game will garner in the build-up to, and aftermath of, Rio 2016.
“Of course we would love to have an Azerbaijani golfer representing the country in Rio,” said Suleymanova.
“But we need to be realistic and we have to take things slowly and go one step at a time, because until a few years ago nobody in Azerbaijan really knew that golf even existed. So one of the reasons for having the Challenge Tour come to Azerbaijan was to spread the word about golf. It is the first professional golf tournament in the whole of the Caucasus region, so we are very proud of that.
“Our five-year strategy is to have a European Tour event, but we have a lot of work to do to make sure we are ready to host such a big tournament. First, we must get more people playing golf. We have around 5,000 expats living here who play golf regularly, and around 1,000 golfers who, until now, have had to travel abroad to play. We have lots of young players who regularly come to the academy to practice, and the numbers are growing all the time. So it’s a very exciting time for us.”