LAHORE           -            A team of dedicated lady golfers, working under the dynamic leadership of Dr Asma Afzal Shami, Chairperson PGF Ladies Golf, has recently successfully implemented the directive of Gen Hilal, President PGF, to plan and conduct the 1st PGF International Ladies Amateur Golf Championship from 21-23 February, at Defence Raya Golf and Country Club Lahore.

Although the PGF Secretariat had sent invitations to many regional countries, intially a positive response was received from only two, one of whom later sent its regrets. However, Dr Shami refused to be discouraged. Charged with the passion to project the soft image of Pakistan, she reached out to her counterparts abroad, subjected them to a highly effective ‘charm offensive’ and  finally won them over by her dogged persistance. As a result, 7 countries, ie Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Iran, Uganda, Afghanistan and Qatar agreed to participate.

Given today’s less than friendly perception regarding Pakistan, this was truly amazing. Her efforts were facilitated by the expeditious issuing of visas by our Embassies, and by the quick response of our Ministry of Health in allaying the apprenhensions of some countries regarding the state of coronavirus, as it existed at that time in Pakistan. Minister of Interior personally assured the ladies that fool proof security would be provided. Similarly, when faced with a budgetting shortfall, an appeal to the private sector resulted in immediate, major contributions from Mr Jahangir Tareen’s JDW, followed by BOP, PEPSI, Service Industries, Silkbank and Pak Suzuki. In addition, Dr  Shahida Khawaja offered free emergency medical treatment to the foreign guests at her National Hospital.

First Lady of Pakistan, Begum Samina Alvi, was the chief guest at the prize distribution ceremony, which was very well attended and conducted with military precision. She congratulated the PGF for holding this Championship that had “brought a breath of fresh air into our sporting environment.” She further praised the untiring efforts of Dr Shami and her team of dedicated Ladies for the successful manner in which they had organised its actual conduct, stating that “this would help improve the soft image of Pakistan.”

She also thanked the foreign guests for their participation, and stated that, “This will go a long way in cementing our bilateral relations, as well as helping Pakistan to robustly emerge on the women’s golfing map in the region.” However, she surprised everyone by paying an earlier, unscheduled visit to the golf course to witness the ongoing match, mingle freely with the foreigners, and also played a round of golf with the organisers. This was a brilliant bit of impromptu, active diplomacy that simply overawed the visiting players.

In another innovation, a representative group of prominent ladies, who portray  the progressive face of Pakistani women, was invited to the stage and presented to the First Lady. These included Dr Najma Najam, the first Pakistani woman to be appointed as  VC of a national university, Maj Gen Shaila Baqai, a serving General in the Army, Sqn Ldr Ayesha, a fighter pilot in the PAF, and Ms Samina Baig, the first Pakiatani woman to climb Mt Everest. As their achievements were individually eulogised, the impact  on the audience was simply mesmerising.

In the words of one of the Team Managers, “Our stereotyped impression of Pakistani women has undergone a sea change. They are women on the ‘GO’ who recognise no bounds!” In a nutshell, all the concerned elements of the Country came together to help ensure the success of this unique event. This is something we can  be proud of as a nation.

The International Match was won by Thailand, with Sri Lanka second, Pakistan third and Malaysia at fourth place. Phanneri Meeson of Thailand was declared as the ‘Best Golfer of the Championship.’ The Inter-Association Match was won by Punjab.That the Championship itself was organised and conducted as per international standards, was acknowledged by all the foreigners, with the professional competence of Col Zahid, the Chief Referee, being particularly appreciated. Similarly, Ms Rabea,  Head of the Malaysian Ladies Golf Association, declared the Raya Golf Course and its facilities to be amongst the best in the region.  

The planning and execution of this  Championship were carried out entirely by women.  While Dr Shami personally coordinated security arrangements for the foreign guests and ensured their smooth passage through Immigration, Mrs Sher Bano Hamdani from Rawalpindi supervised all technical aspects as the Tournament Director. She  was  ably assisted by Ms Zeenat Aisha from Islamabad and Ms Fauzia Naqvi from Karachi who formed the Championship Committee.  Mrs Maimoona Azam put in herculean efforts to balance the budget, while Mrs Bela Azam and Mrs Shehnaz Moin organised the Golf Dinner and Musical Evening. Similarly, Mrs Aisha Moazzam conducted the Prize Distribution Ceremony flawlessly, while Mrs Ayesha Hamid, Mrs Iffat Zara and Mrs Shabana Waheed, won the hearts of the foreign guests by making them both welcome and comfortable.

However, when, in a lighter vein,  some of the foreigners remarked, “although the minimal involvement of your men was very noticeable, they were not missed,” Dr Shami countered by saying, “we consider this a vote of confidence by the PGF in our abilities and are grateful to Gen Hilal for the liberty of action that this provided us.”  Indeed, her team has demonstrated its abilities in its conduct of this mega international event, the like of which has never been seen before in Pakistan.

In the words of Dr Shami, “It was not merely about playing Golf. It was also about connecting and building bridges between Nations. And seven bridges have indeed been built!”  This was borne out by the statement of Mrs Evah, Head of Ugandan Ladies Golf Union, “I am taking back Pakistan in my heart and will now be its Ambassador in Uganda.” This then is the new face of Pakistani Women - they are ‘Women at their Best.’ The nation needs to recognise their outstanding effort. They have brought honour to Pakistan.