Confederation of Professional Golf Director of Education & Membership, Tony Bennett, delves into the history of Confederation of Professional Golf Member Country, the PGA of Hungary, with Áron Makszin, László Tringer & Damian MacPherson…
“We literally built the first golf hole in Hungary during the early 1980s.” How many people can lay claim to such an achievement? Well PGA of Hungary Professional, László Tringer, can. Not only was László, his father and a few friends right at the sharp end of golf’s re-emergence in the former communist state around the time of independence, but he was also responsible for the creation of the PGA of Hungary at the turn of the century.
I caught up with László and Áron Makszin in a very cold and snow-covered Budapest in February. Why I agreed to go to Hungary at that time of the year is something that I have asked myself for the last few days. Even so, the cold exterior is more than made up for by the warm hospitality and of course the celebrated Goulash soup.
The reason for my visit was to deliver the Confederation of Professional Golf’s Tutor Training course to a group of Professionals who currently are or soon will be, delivering the PGA of Hungary professional education programme. Education is taken very seriously in this part of the world. The University of Sport and Physical Education, which emerged from the world famous Semmelweis University, is an education partner of the PGA of Hungary.
As is the case in many emerging golf markets, there are those who have lived each faltering step along the way. László and Áron are such people. I also caught up by Skype with PGA Professional, Damian MacPherson, who was out of the country during my visit.
Damian moved to Hungary 20 years ago and has since built a career and reputation that has resulted in an award from the government to recognise his services to the game. Thankfully all three were willing to share their experiences. Lived experience is often a subjective account of what actually has happened, but this potential weakness is more than made up for by the rich understanding that emerges from every ounce of their being.
For most of us, it is hard to imagine starting to play golf when there are no facilities, no equipment, and no access to knowledge. Imagine starting to play on an athletic field, or building your own hole. With no courses available, what would you do?
For László the answer was obvious – build one. Well, perhaps not a full course, but a least one hole and then another. Three holes later, these creations eventually became holes seven, eight & nine on the Kisoroszi Course, and once again golf was on its way.
Not content with his efforts, and after a period of training with the PGA of Germany, László returned to Hungary to form the PGA of Hungary. As the President, he has overseen every step of the development of the Association and now acts as Vice President.
Meanwhile, Áron was competing in the Decathlon and racking up two gold medals in the national athletics championships. Imagine his surprise when this seemingly simple game that involves swinging a club and hitting a ball proved too difficult to master. Áron says that the “challenge and the environment were the key drivers” for his involvement in golf. He found it hard to understand as an athlete who could easily control his body positions and copy from master teachers, that he was unable to do the same in golf. He was hooked. Áron is a lifelong learner and sees every situation as an opportunity to develop his knowledge or skill. Golf satisfied his thirst for continual exploration and learning.
Golf has been played in Hungary since the early 1900s, but it was football that was the major sport when under the Communist party rule. Golf was banned as it was thought to be a potential threat to the party and so the existing golf facilities were destroyed. The nation had success in other sports, swimming, water polo, athletics and handball, but surprisingly there has been success on the golf course too. Although the link to Julius Boros, the son of two Hungarian immigrants to the United States, is somewhat tenuous, ‘Boros’ as they simply call him here, won two US Opens and played on four USA Ryder Cup Teams.
Hungary is a very different nation today than it was just 30 years ago. In an economy that has zero unemployment, one might think that golf professionals might have an easy life. This is not the case for the 37 PGA of Hungary members who serve 1,300 officially registered players along with another estimated 500 nomad players. You can do the maths, but it clear that from a population of ten million people, golf is not likely to feature in the top ten sporting pastimes. Why so?
According to László, people like golf when they see it on TV. The Olympics he says has had a small positive effect – so why do more people not play? Many people try golf, but few are really grabbed by the shirt and bond to the game. Time? Expense? We have heard these reasons before and yet alpine skiing, sailing and tennis have all gone onto to enjoy a burgeoning appeal. Why then has golf not made this step?
Damian, who arrived in Hungary in 1998 with no intention to stay more than a year, is fully integrated into the Hungarian way of life with his family and friends. He has no intentions of going anywhere else. He has experienced the difficulties of getting golf to penetrate into the hearts of the Hungarian people. People try the game but rarely take the next step, “perhaps it is perception,” says Damian. “The government see it as an elite sport and when youngsters go home saying that they have tried and enjoyed golf, it is met with parental advice to forget golf and take up one of the more mainstream games.”
Áron, who is the Secretary-General of the Hungarian Golf Federation also makes the point, “perhaps the perception built up by the media is not helping”. Golf is no more expensive than alpine skiing and sailing, and it likely takes around the same or less time, so is there a misguided perception? The Hungarian people see the sport as elitist, for the rich, the powerful and the famous. Until now it is not a game for the people, or so they think, he says. The Federation together with the PGA and golf facilities, of which there are now 18, are all behind a project that will help newcomers have an experience that is inexpensive and entirely inclusive.
Even after more than 20 years, László, Áron and Damian still have the passion to help the Hungarian people get into golf. Typically Áron sees education as being an essential tool for the professionals and says that all professionals now, more than ever before, need to have great communication, personal relation and coaching skills.
All three agree that Hungary needs more players, to which László adds that they also need a good player, someone who can make it on the European Tour and perhaps win a tournament. A dream? Perhaps. But a dream that the professionals in Hungary will keep working for.