Volunteers a Kazakhstan success story

Sep 21. PGA European Tour

Volunteers a Kazakhstan success storyOne of the European Challenge Tour’s goals has always been to spread the golfing gospel to new territories around the globe, and there are few finer examples of this than at the Kazakhstan Open, where 150 volunteers have been helping out and learning about the game over the past week.

This impressive number is made up almost exclusively of locals from Almaty, but there are four in particular that have gone above and beyond this week, having travelled far and wide to do their bit in 2014.

An Englishwoman, a couple from Wales and an American – we promise this is not the start to a bad joke – have travelled to Kazakhstan to bring their experience of the game to those others volunteering, some of which might perhaps be a little less knowledgeable than themselves.

Paul Naysmith, a retired banker from Wales, is one of those, having come to the Central Asian country with his wife to visit their daughter who works at a school in the host city, and the pair were excited to see their first action from the second tier, having experienced the recent Senior Open Championship presented by Rolex as members of Royal Porthcawl.

“We have come over from Wales as my daughter works here in Almaty,” said the Treasurer of the Glamorgan County Golf Union. “This week was an opportunity to spend two weeks here with her, but also to fit in the golf, as I’ve always wanted to see the Challenge Tour. I’ve never been to Almaty or Kazakhstan before either, and I think it is fascinating.

“Golf is expanding here as this is the tenth year of the tournament and I think it is good for the game of golf to expand worldwide. In the UK we are seeing a decline in golf club memberships and there is a need for more people to play golf across the world, otherwise it will become the preserve of the elderly and the wealthy, certainly in our country. Youngsters are not taking the game up like they should, hence the need to expand into new territories.”

After a decade of action in Kazakhstan it seems an apt time to look back on what the tournament has achieved in this embryonic golfing nation, with the volunteer programme that has been built at both host venues – Nurtau Golf Club and Zhailjau Golf Resort – truly one of the event’s real success stories.

Camila Davies has spent five years volunteering at the event, some of which were spent as the Chief Marshall, but has since passed on the reins to Natalya Shin, who has continued the fine work being done on behalf of the Kazakhstan Open – something which her predecessor was quick to point out.

“Natalya took over as Chief Marshall from me and since then they have not really needed me anymore as she is just so good at it” said Davies, 49, who lived in Kazakhstan for five years. “It is so much fun watching the golfers, and what I love about it is the students and young people from Almaty, who have never been on a golf course, they come out and love it. They’ll stay out in all weather, and they can’t believe how peaceful and quiet it is.

“A girl one year dreamed the previous night that she’d be in a buggy, then the next day I picked her up in one and she said her dreams had come true. She also said afterwards that she learned so much about respect and politeness and has since taken that on board herself.

“The problem here in Kazakhstan is that golf is still unaffordable. It was a similar case in China when it first started there, but now it is much more affordable, so hopefully in the future – with the help of people like Konstantin Livanof (the promoter) and through the federations, they can help.

“Through learning English as well, people’s confidence in themselves and their ability with the language improves, which is amazing. We have a lot of 14 year old volunteers and other juniors, with one in particular, whose father comes up to me every year to thank me for getting him to volunteer as he was once a shy young boy, is now more confident, his English has improved so much, and I think he is now over at Oxford University.

“Through his volunteering he developed his confidence and his English. It is really good for their development, and now we just need some more Kazakh stars of the future, as it is a great country and the people have a real heart and soul.”

The growth of the Kazakhstan Open has seen it become one of the biggest on the Challenge Tour calendar, with the yearly pilgrimage to Central Asia now boasting the largest prize fund of the season at €450,000.