Young golf champs debunk elitist notion By Lloyda Nicholas
Stabroek News
December 6, 2006

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Marketing Executive of Banks DIH Carlton Joao (right) handing over the championship trophy to 17-year-old Christine Sookram who won the female category of the Smirnoff Open Golf Tournament. (Aubrey Crawford photo)

Among many Guyanese, the perception is that golf is the sport of the elite and only those with the financial wherewithal and the right contacts can become involved in this sport.

However, recently two teenagers turned that notion on its head when they won the Smirnoff Vodka-sponsored Guyana Open golf tournament at the Lusignan Golf Club.

Seasoned campaigner Christine Sookram and young caddy and newcomer to the tournament Avinash Persaud beat out top golfers from Guyana, Suriname, Canada and the United States to claim top honours.

For his part, Persaud, a fifteen-year-old school dropout from humble background, began golfing at the tender age of ten after visiting the Lusignan Golf Club with his late father, Harry Persaud, who after retiring from a career at sea became a course worker at the club. Persaud said that his father was also a very good golfer and won several tournaments and this piqued his interest in the sport.

He related that as a boy he played cricket but once he began to play golf he realized that this was the sport for him. The lad began working as a caddy at the club and it wasn't long before he became well versed in the game. He said, "I practised a lot and focused on the game and just tried to go out and do my best." Flashback! Marketing Executive of Banks DIH Carlton Joao (right) handing over the championship trophy to 16-year-old Avinash Persaud winner of the male category of the Smirnoff Open Golf Tournament. (Aubrey Crawford photo)

Persaud said that from growing up in Lusignan, it wasn't seen as anything strange when he gravitated to the club since it has become part of the community. He added that he was drawn to the game because it is in his opinion a tourist sport and it gives him the opportunity to meet new people. But it was his obvious talent that grabbed the attention of members of the club.

Canada-based Guyanese real estate businessman Andrew Bullen started sponsoring the young man earlier this year. Persaud, who had won a caddy's tournament in 2004, decided to enter the Smirnoff Vodka Golf open tournament simply because he thought he could win.

"I saw people's scores over the years and I knew I could do better," he said. However, Persaud noted that it was this same confidence that may have caused his poor showing on the first day of the tournament. He admitted that he was overconfident going into the competition and nervousness affected his putting game.

The rookie ended the first day with a score of eight over par and had a lot of catching up to do on his second day of competition.

Persaud went back to the course on the second day of competition prepared to "just go out and hit the ball and play a free game" as he called it. This coupled with the support that he got from members of the Lusignan community saw him sweep past the competition with an improved putting game and strong drives to finish on top. Winning the tournament, Persaud said, made him feel like somebody. "People use to look at me like I am nobody but now everybody wants to see me play."

Persaud spoke about his father who died last year, saying that he knows he would have been proud of him if he were still alive. "He always liked to see me play good golf," he said.

In the near future Persaud plans to continue his golfing career with tournaments in Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. Additionally, he will be going back to school to gain a secondary education starting in January.

Winner of the lady's tournament Christine Sookram is no stranger to the golf arena in Guyana and no stranger to winning tournaments. Sookram began playing golf when she was just six years old and living in Grenada. Her father, a golf coach, insisted that she play and she said, "I never really thought about it - I just played, never realizing that I was getting better and better."

The seventeen-year-old Sookram said that when she returned to Guyana at the age of twelve it was her father who insisted that she continue with the sport. She said that he recognized her talent and he decided that she should take it up. She admitted that it was when she started winning tournaments that she really fell in love with the sport. Sookram who attends Bladen Hall Secondary School has won 14 tournaments, including three overseas tournaments.

At her young age she is already considered a veteran and is practically unbeatable in Guyana. She is also very active in basketball and cricket. She said that most of her friends are proud of her achievements as a golfer and have even started playing the game for fun.

She told Stabroek Sport that wealth should not be a consideration if someone wants to get involved in the sport. She said, "You don't have to be wealthy to be good at golf."

However, in order to further her education, Sookram may be leaving Guyana since she is currently preparing for SAT exams with the hope of getting into a college in the United States.

She said that she is also focusing on developing her game and is now concentrating on Caribbean tournaments. She said, "The Lusignan Golf Club needs more young members and I invite everyone to come out and try the game because it is a lot of fun." Sookram said that she enjoys the camaraderie that comes with being part of the club.