As they interact with their caddies on the fairways and greens, they could easily pass as ordinary golf players as they calmly walk on the 18-hole Nakuru Golf Club course exchanging remarks in a good humoured way.
Clad in golf polo T-shirts, gloves, hats, shoes and a matching pair of golf trousers and khaki pants, it does not instantly register that they are Catholic priests on the golf course.
The priests are not in their usual flowing robes and rosaries they wear while delivering sermons or performing missionary work. But these are not your ordinary golfers at the 90-year-old uphill course that sits on the slopes of the scenic Menengai Crater.
They are very down-to- earth golfers and rarely pass a golfer, a cook, a guard or a passer-by at the club without greeting them as they step into the tee area.
These are Catholic priests who have a passion outside parish life and are enjoying a holy roller of a round of golf. And here the gentleman’s game and Christian religion appear compatible as faith and fairways mixes.
And as the game gathers momentum spiritual connections are easily made during rounds on the course.
These priests have been part of the golf scene at Nakuru golf club for close to two decades and may as well have secure golf a place in eternity as they beautifully blend on the greens with fluid swings.
Interestingly some of their playing partners are not aware that they are priests. “It is good for the priests to have a little breather over the weekend, refresh and recharge batteries so that we are ready to go again in our pastoral duties,” said Father Christopher Kamau who is also the education secretary at the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru.
Father Kamau who is also the director in charge of child safety and protection at the expansive diocese says he started playing golf 12 years ago.
“At first my wayward tee shots were embarrassing as I was still a rookie but I have since upped my game and won many competitions. I started at handicap 28 and today I am handicap 17. My target is single handicap and the sky is the limit,” said Father Kamau.
“If someone is playing golf and wants to find God, it is possible to find him,” added father Kamau.
“There is a lot of deep bonding and in golf course we’re all brothers and sisters, but we don’t always behave that way in society. On the golf course we do.”
Added father Kamau: “In golf and in life there is an ending. We often get distracted in life and forget what comes at the end. “The beauty of this game is that in golf and in life there is also a scorecard,” said father Kamau after a swing.
“The game of golf gives a person another view that we’re not all just about sacramental life. I can be competitive too. I love what I do. Golf is just a wonderful game.”
“There is something about the beautiful courses, clean air and the atmosphere of respect for an ideal sportsmanlike conduct and deep interaction with people from all walks of life,” said father Kamau who is a great admirer of American golf superstar Tiger Woods.
He said he had a wrong misconception that golf was for the rich but he has discovered it is just like any other sport and the difference are the rules applied.
“When we make introduction before tee off, the game somehow warms up when my companion realise I am a priest,” said Father Kamau.
Among the lesson he has learnt include co-operation, discipline, patience, team work, self-control and tolerance.
“It has helped me balance my life as a priest and as a golfer,” said Father Kamau. “Health wise golf has rejuvenated my fitness and when I go back to work I feel energetic,” said Father Kamau.
For Father Joseph Ithari, since he started playing golf in 2004, the word golf has come to define many things.
“I am diabetic and if I don’t play golf I feel sick. When I play, I feel so refreshed,” said Father Ithari who is currently at handicap 16. Father Ithari, 51, who is also the Principal of Loreto Boys Secondary school in Nakuru town, said his most memorable moment on the golf course is when he had a hole in one during a tournament at Njoro Golf Club.
“I play to be happy and keep fit. It reduces stresses of work and it has taught me to manage time.”
He says playing golf has helped him pick management tips from a cross section of teammates and this is making his pastoral and teaching work ease.
He says although golf is addictive, it pushes him to achieve his objectives and makes him sharpen his management skills.
“Playing with top managers in various fields gives me some good insights to improve on my two areas of specialisation,” said Father Ithari who is also a taekwondo coach. We preach by action and there is a lot that we teach by interacting with other golfers by the way we conduct ourselves at the golf course.
Father Martin Murimi, 47, has been playing golf for the past 14 years.
Father Murimi who is playing at handicap 12 is based in Kuresoi North in Molo area describes golf as a way of life. “My dream is to one day play a single handicap. I love this magical game as it teaches one to be patient and focused in life,” said Father Muraya.
He says the discipline regime at golf has helped him to check his diet and drinking habits.
His highest moment so far as a golfer is when he hit the ball very far and reached the green of a par 5 in just two strokes. “I was overjoyed because rather than three strokes I managed to set up an opportunity for an eagle,” said Father Murimi who credits father Moses Mahugu for mentoring him.
At 64 years, Father Bethuel Mwaura who is an assistant parish priest at Njoro parish looks like he is in his mid-40s thanks to the game of golf, he explains.
“I have been playing golf for the past seven years and the benefits I have got are huge. I used to suffer from hypertension and arthritis but since I started playing golf it has disappeared,” said father Mwaura, who was introduced to the game while on missionary mission in US by the current Vicar General Father Cleophas Oseso.
“It has taught me practical life lessons. I don’t quit because I lost. I keep on pressing and that is why I have climbed up to handicap 19 from 28,” said Father Mwaura who is the current champion of the annual Brother Larry Timons golf tournament at Njoro golf club.
“If you want to remain younger and healthy golf is the best bet,” said Father Mwaura.
The accomplished golf playing catholic priests are members of Nakuru and Njoro clubs. The fathers use their free time to train during their off duty and after finishing their pastoral work on Sunday afternoon. Their employer has no problem with them having a bit of a hit-about with ball and club on the golf course.
The Vicar General Father Cleophas Oseso, who is also a golfer, said golf was just like any other game.
“Golf just like any other sport has many benefits outside the priests’ pastoral duties as it boost their health when they play as it forms part of their exercise which is good for their health,” said Father Oseso.
Father Chris Kamau said the individual priests pay for their own membership fees at the club, buy the equipment and other playing kits.
“We pay for the equipment and what we enjoy is the good will from the church which supports the initiative,” said Father Kamau.
So next time you are having a round of golf this part of Kenya, hey, you may just be playing against a man of God. Win or lose, you would still have many blessing to count.