Amir Malik has made it his mission to enpower and inspire Muslims to get into golf. This is how he’s doing it…
Since taking up golf seven years ago, Amir Malik has experienced everything from indifference and curiosity to hostility because of his beliefs – and the colour of his skin.
As a practising Muslim, he prays five times a day, eats only halal meat and avoids the gambling and drinking culture that’s popular in golf clubs. He’s never asked others to change, yet knows of “loads of people” who have missed a prayer on the golf course for the sake of feeling embarrassed.
“I started playing golf at a similar time with a close group of friends and we were all very nervous about going to golf courses,” admits Malik.
“It’s not like cricket, for example. We were almost in our own little pact and it’s only when we started exploring different golf courses that it really hit home that golf isn’t a sport played by Muslims or brown guys.
“A lot of the times I visited a private members’ club, I was made to feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong. I’m quite a confident guy, but it’s attitudes like that which turn people away.”
Fed up with feeling unwelcome, Malik has made it his mission to empower and inspire Muslim golfers to abide by their principles.
On Christmas Day in 2019, he set-up the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) and launched a charity golf day at The Grove with little publicity. What happened next exceeded all expectations.
“Within 24 hours, I sold 72 places,” he says. “Within a week, I had another 90 people on the waiting list. That’s when I realised I might have stumbled upon something. That was really exciting.”
Ultimately, the various lockdowns meant the event was pushed back from June to August 2020, but the event still ended up raising over £18,000 for the READ Foundation and resulted in 30 orphans being sponsored.
“It was a tremendous success,” says Malik. “We had people coming from all over the country. Manchester, Newcastle, Exeter, Birmingham, Leicester… That really spurred me on because there was a lack of diversity in golf.
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“I remember speaking to guys in their 60s and 70s and the kind of racism they’ve faced is incredible. There was a guy from Scotland who was telling me that he grew up playing golf with headphones on because of the amount of abuse he’d get. Things have changed a lot since then, but it’s still evident today.”
Though the pandemic caused the cancellation of a two-day competition at The Belfry last autumn, the Muslim Golf Association has continued to grab attention all across the world. It has attracted interest from over 500 golfers in the last year, and recently partnered with Marriott Hotels to host three tournaments this summer.
The first, at Worsley Park in Manchester, formed part of the inaugural Race to Arden, which included trips to The Shire and the Forest of Arden.
The tri-series proved so popular that each event was sold out and 200 golfers have registered to be involved in The Race to Arden, Order of Merit series next year.
“The most important thing is that we create an environment where people can be themselves,” says Malik, a member of Stockwood Park in Luton. “The Muslim Golf Association was set-up on three principles – there’s no alcohol, no gambling and we make sure facilities to pray are always available. That’s all we ask.
“We ask whoever wants to come along and play, please respect those values. There’s no criteria to be of Muslim faith and we’re open to any colour, religion and so on.”
Next year, Malik hopes to organise a similar programme across the US and is intent on getting more Muslim women and kids into golf.
“There’s a big door of opportunity to partner with schools and mosques, but I genuinely want to take this global. I’m a bit of a dreamer, but what’s taken me aback is how well it’s been received in the golfing world.
“I think I am breaking down a barrier. A lot of our members didn’t feel comfortable in getting involved with golf clubs as members or entering competitions as they felt out of place or not welcome. If we want to encourage people into the game, we need to change those attitudes.
“I want golf to be accessible for everyone and I believe it can be. I’ve got a plan to try to get golf rolled out across the whole Muslim community, not only in the UK but across the world. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t.”
Getting more women into golf
It’s not just Muslim men who Amir Malik thinks will enjoy golf. In July, he teamed up with group coaching experience love.golf to pilot three taster events for women, too.
“Within 12 hours we had 25 women signed up and 40 on a waiting list,” he says. “Since then, I’ve had another 130 women saying, ‘Please bring this to my city’.
“We would like to get another three or four more done, just because the demand was incredible. If I can get over 100 Muslim women out on to the golf course, that would be a great success.”
The 37-year-old is not short on ambition, but he’s making good progress in his bid to popularise the sport. He was even approached by Saudi Arabia’s golf association, Golf Saudi, to help with their Mass Participation programme, which aims to introduce golf to women in Saudi and internationally.
Just a couple of weeks later they organised for LET star Camilla Lennarth to host a coaching clinic, exclusively for 10 female Muslim Golf Association members, on the first day of the inaugural Aramco Team Series – London event, at Centurion Club.
“It’s great to see because my vision has always been on a much bigger scale,” says Malik. “I always thought that, if I’m a relatively confident brown guy who finds some courses intimidating, Lord help a conservative woman who covers up.
“This needs to change because there’s so much in common with golf and Islamic values, in what it teaches and how it operates. I think Muslim people can find a lot of solace and comfort and synergy in this game.”