By Matthew Cooper


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Photo of Glad’s House caddies at the Kenya Open courtesy of Glad’s House

This week the inaugural Magical Kenya Ladies Open is a late season bonus for golfers on the Ladies European Tour, granting them a much-needed new playing opportunity, but the host course, Vipingo Ridge CC in Mombasa, is home to a group of caddies for whom the sport of golf has offered them something much greater than that – a genuinely life-changing opportunity.

The tournament is the 20th on the LET’s 2019 schedule and it is also the last before the number one in the Order of Merit is crowned.

It has been a year of flux for the circuit, with the CEO Mark Lichtenhein standing down in midsummer and a proposed partnership with the LPGA approved at last week’s Open de Espana.

But for all the turbulence none of the golfers have had it as tough as some of the local caddies they will meet this week.

Glad’s House is a charity founded by Vicky Ferguson and Bokey Achola who met whilst working with street children in Mombasa. Since those early days the organization has transformed the lives of thousands of young adults and children, with golf playing a key part in some of those stories.

A fundamental element of their operation is to first provide a safe place for the young people and then provide the opportunity for them to work and rebuild their lives.

Many have achieved this through caddying at Vipingo Ridge and every year six of them have spent the week working at the Kenya Open, a tournament that began on the Challenge Tour, but which has been elevated to the European Tour in the last two years.

The sport has given the young people a hand-up and helped re-integrate them into society.

Julius Simiyu is one of them, a young man who found himself on the streets aged nine and spent 12 long years carrying luggage and collecting scrap metal to make ends meet.

He became dependent on substances to mask his fear and shame, but began to attend football sessions at Glad’s House where his dreams of a life away from the streets impressed themselves on the workers.

He was among the first in-take of caddies in 2009 and it was a chance he didn’t waste. His confidence grew, his English improved and he now supports his two young siblings, providing them with the education he didn’t have.

Simiyu has been a regular caddie at the Kenya Open and European Tour golfer Chris Lloyd, a patron of Glad’s House, has witnessed the transformation first-hand.

“It’s been amazing to see how far Julius has come as a caddie and a person,” he says. “It’s always a privilege to have him by my side.”

Sibiyu will be joined by at least seven other Glad’s House caddies this week along with two of their social worker chaperones.

The charity hopes that when more courses are built in Kenya they will be able to extend the programme for more ex-street people, not just as caddies but also on the greenkeeping staff and beyond. Vipingo Ridge has already agreed to employ three of the youngsters as apprentices in its hospitality department.

In less optimistic news Glad’s House is struggling for sponsorship ahead of the trip to the men’s Kenya Open in March which would be a loss of vital experience for the caddies.

Just two weeks ago the European Tour season concluded with an event that had the highest winning prizes in the history of the game so it was understandable that many talked of the “life-changing” possibilities available.

In Mombasa, however, the reality is that considerably less money would impact on many more lives and to a much greater degree. Amazing work is being completed and so much more could be achieved with just a little support.