You were almost staggering yesterday and now I am a bit surprised to see you are on your feet. What happened?
I had a stiff knee. I have actually had both of my knees replaced. Normally, after a golf game and I sit for a long time I get very stiff. But after a while and I get some blood running on the knees again, I will be ok.
It’s amazing why you still play golf in spite of the challenges…
I got my knees fixed so that I can play golf. I do not see what situation I will be and not be able to play golf. That will be pretty bad for me, not to play golf.
You mean you fixed your knees so that you can play golf?
Yes, before that I’ve had two surgeries’ on one of the knees. I had two Arthroscopic surgeries, where they just dressed the cartilage. You know, because of my weight and having been volleyball player as a young man, I have been smashing on the cartilage. So by the next time I went to see the doctor, I was told to replace it and I did that in 2009. The replacement is essentially to tighten it up with some plastics.
That should be painful…
Yeah, the surgery is very painful, especially when the effects of medications wear out. Even now I am not in as much pain as I used to be, but I still need to do so more gym work, to strengthen the muscles around.
With all these, how have you managed to maintain your handicap?
I am playing handicap 9 now. I used to play 5. With all the surgeries my handicap kept going up. But I have started taking lessons, trying to get back to 5. My target is to be able to play 12 at the age of 70. To do that, I have to go down now to about 5, so that I can start building up gradually towards 70, I am in my late 50’s now.
So many golfers say good things about you. Why are you so revered?
Ebiyemi Pinnick is just a simple guy who takes what he does seriously. I am a friend to all, committed to what I do and true to my objectives. Most of the times, I really don’t rob people right at the first time but when they see what I am trying to achieve, and the fact that I am trying to get something done, they tend to come around and when they do, they start assisting.
Could your being a former captain contribute to the reverence?
I don’t think so. What commands the respect for me is the fact that when I do things I don’t do it for myself, it’s for a purpose. That is the objective I keyed into. And when people see that you are honest with what you are trying to do, they tend to come around. I also have respect for lots of members of this club. But the truth is that people are going to gravitate towards people that are like them.
I heard you telling someone that “you are dry”. What does that mean?
I have tried to stay away from that but what it means is that I am diabetics. But I do like to drink, I like alcohol a lot. I drink different types. Since I have that kind of affinity for drinks and I am diabetics those two things don’t go together. Definitely something has to give. So what I do is I take a whole year off when I don’t drink alcohol. So that my friends don’t ply me with drink, they know I am not drinking this year so they don’t bother me. But in the year that I drink, I will be the one bothering them.
Is it possible to go a year off drink for someone who normally drinks?
What I heard and what I have been practicing is that it takes about three weeks to break any habit, good or bad. It takes 21-days to get out and once you do that, that is it. You can break any habit. It is not easy, you just have make up your mind.
Perhaps, you should preach this to the younger ones on how to break addiction…
If they have bad habit like this they need to be listening to me. I believe younger Nigerians from what I have seen of them, they don’t have problem with alcohol. I look at that from the point of view of looking at my children and my friends’ children unlike like my generation.
Let me now take you to the course. Everywhere here is green now. What was it like at the time you joined?
When I joined we had browns, we had sand mixed with oil to provide a slick putting surface. Then when you get out of the course you looked like a mechanic, because you are taking your ball and putting it in your pocket. In 1999 we started changing the course. Some of us came together and said ‘we must change it’. We achieved that in four years. The project actually started from General John Shagaya’s days. He tried to put synthetic green on Hole-1 but it didn’t work. Years later, Sanni Rasaq did one green, then Charles Majoroh came in. I think he was able to do six. He also established the first set of irrigation systems and so we were able to get water to the greens, Uyi Akpata did about five and then Fred Coker came and rounded it up. Coker did a lot of work. In fact, the day Fred finished as a captain; I remember walking up to him and gave him three bottles of wine, thanking him for completing the project.
That’s the same way people talk about you. But you contested twice, the first you didn’t win. What really happened then?
The first time some people convinced me I needed to come out. But I was out of the country for about five months. I should have been smart enough to pull out then but it was really too late and a friend came out too. We wouldn’t have come out at the same time but it’s a good thing that he won at that time because he probably was more prepared. Luckily he was good for the club and did lots of things but when I came in the following year which was really out of circle, I was able to clear out some of the projects he started. We were very successful with some of the projects because we had a very tough committee, filled with very serious minded people. It was the committee and not me that achieved those goals.
As soon as I became captain I wrote down what I wanted to do. The first thing I talked about was that we needed to take care of the drainage because every year we short down the course for two months or so. Some other captains had tried but have not been able to get it through, because some of these things are internal and external in nature and what we must first deal with the internal elements. The luck I had was the fact that one of the previous captains had been working on a five year plan for the course and they had a drainage plan on it. So we took the drainage plan out and had it re-surveyed and we build the drainage. And since then we’ve not had the course closed for one-day due to rains. Our goal was to make sure we don’t close the course for more than two weeks that year. We tried to re-grass some fairways but we failed woefully. We had about six experiments and it didn’t work. So it became obvious that we do not have the skill to do that. We tried to tackle the driving range issue and for the same reasons the plan was inadequate, so we could not chase that and so the committee turned its attention to the club house.
Now with the way Ikoyi works, you need to pass a lot of things through the tender’s committee. Even if you have the money, to spend it is a problem. That committee is set up with good intentions, the people there are good people but the system itself is strangulating the club. Because of the way it is, each section didn’t have the means to work to its capacity. Some sections, especially golf section could not spend up to 10-20 per cent of its capital budget. Any organization that cannot do that will die because that is the growth in the budget.
As I said, we focused our attention towards the clubhouse and we got sponsor for all the things we wanted to do. We were able to convert that upper terrace to ultra modern Centre. It sits 200 people maximum capacity. That Terrace is two-story high, so we said we needed to bring in a lift, especially for the elderly ones. So I approached my friends and they give me good money and we were able to put in a lift and its being working ever since. Now older members can come in to the Upper Terrace through the lift.
There was an incident with the lift, can you remember that?
You see, that lift is a special kind of lift. It’s just like a plug and play thing. The issue was not a problem of maintenance. For a thing like this to work, there is going to be power issue and training of people around it. What happened was just minor incident, if somebody that can operate had been around it wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately all the waiters that were trained had been moved away from the club at that time.
Soji Awogbade praised you in an interview with Golf Nigeria, saying he couldn’t imagine how you managed to get those things done…
Soji is my friend; we went to the same primary school at Osogbo, as well as the boarding school. Soji in those days was a JF Kennedy Scholar. He won a scholarship for either Western Region or Nigeria then. He is a great mind and a lawyer, a past captain. He started the Nigeria Cup.
Were you out to prove a point when you became captain or you were just prepared for it?
I am always true to my objectives. I take anything I want to do seriously. I don’t do half measure. Its either I am all-in or not in-at-all. All-in or all-out, that’s my motto in life.
If I-am-in, I-am-in fully and if I-am-out, I-am-out fully, being captain was therefore an opportunity to influence my peers. I wanted to show that getting this done is not a strange phenomenon to Nigerians. That thing can be done right by Nigerians. That is the point and we did it. You see, most people tend to blame others for their misfortune instead of lack of planning. As they say, a fool with a plan is smarter than a genius without plan.
If you were much younger I would have recommended you set up an NGO and try in your own little way to redirect the youths’ footsteps…
Well, that is not totally closed now because I am retired and have lots of time on my hand. I am involved with a few things here and there and that is something we may want to do.
Are there things you did as a captain but now wish they were never done?
My main regret was that I wished I was able to complete some of the projects I started, including the bathroom. When I faced the clubhouse we first put an ATM here, we cleaned out the reception area, we installed an elevator and we got Fidelity Bank to pay for our locker room. What we had then was unacceptable and this is supposed to be five-star hospitality when you consider the real estate it’s sitting on. What we wanted was to make it a five-star facility. If only I had about 4-5 weeks more, I would have finished the job. We actually awarded contracts. Since we couldn’t get the money from the main house, we decided to use part of the money we raised during my tenure for the bathroom, we even got some vendors to pay 50 per cent of the cost and they were willing to do that but as soon as I left, the plan was upturned to the disadvantage of the section. It wasn’t the captain’s fault but the tender board and you start wondering whether people who take decisions are doing so in the interest of the club.
Aside that, personally, I don’t think members should be doing business with the club. Members should come and enjoy themselves. Lots of things go on here where members are doing business with the club. In proper climes that is referred to as conflict of interest. That is what is holding back this club. In most clubs such things are outsourced. This club is nowhere near where it should be.
Is Ikoyi Club your ideal golf club?
No, it’s not even close to it, this is like a mad house. Ikoyi Club is an abuse of very excellent estate ideas. The people who set up this if they come back and look at us they will think that we are crazy. I am serious about this. There are new clubs coming up, you have Lakowe Lakes, Ilara-Mokin. If you look at the buildings here in Ikoyi, you will see that nothing is in sync. It is mad house and the reason is because members are involved in running of the place. Members can dictate, lay down the policy and allow professionals to run it. I belong to several other courses elsewhere in the world. There are thousands of clubs in the USA and those clubs are run by nothing less than ten hospitality outfits and management companies.
What is the next thing after captainship?
My life goes on. My generation has really benefited a lot from this country. Unfortunately, we have not treated the country the way it has treated us. We have not given enough back to the country. On my own, I will continue to support the golf section and the club as whole and in other sphere that can better the life of Nigerians. You don’t have to be a captain to help. Before I became one I doing the golf clinic and that yielded result. I am also thinking of going back and start supporting the junior clinic again.
How long have you been playing golf?
I started in 1997 in Dallas, USA.
Can you remember your most memorable days on the course?
Yeah, that was at a course in Mettle Beach, South Carolina called True Blue. Typically, we go out every year for my summer outing. I go out with about 16-guys. Most of the guys were very low handicap players. We play 36-holes every day. My early morning score that day was 72-level par, in the afternoon I shoot 73 and I won both times.
Has there been any day you don’t want to talk about?
Yes, there has been several like that when thing have gone bad. I’ve broken a club on the course before more than once. I try not to remember those times, you know. But now, I have grown to enjoy my game. I look at it that I am out there to enjoy myself, and golf will not always come. When it comes you take advantage of it. Right now in my life I am playing good golf.
Finally, is the lightening on the course a priority for Ikoyi Club?
I really don’t want to talk about it but to tell you the truth; I don’t think the lightening is in the five-year plan. If it’s there I have not seen it. It’s possible it’s there. But I have not seen it. But there are certain things that persuade captains to do otherwise. The problem of not being able to get things done in a proper manner pushes them to look at other priority areas. So it will be unfair for me to make comment. I have played golf all over the world but I can’t remember any member club that has lightening on the four, five holes.
Thank you for your time, sir.
It’s my pleasure.