Every time Amir Malik steps onto the first tee he faces challenges – and they don’t simply involve putting the ball in the hole. Steve Carroll met him
As a practising Muslim, Amir Malik avoids golf’s many clubhouse rituals – the 19th hole drink, and the gambling culture that’s such an important part of a day at the course for so many.
He prays five times a day, fitting his faith into minutes around tee boxes or finding a quiet corner of a changing room to show his devotion.
He’s faced racism, and yet his deep love for golf remains undimmed.
Those experiences have not defined his view of the sport. They’ve inspired him to change it through the Muslim Golf Association. He wants to take the world by storm.
It took one flushed shot at the driving range for Malik to become smitten. “If you don’t get a sensation, if something funny doesn’t happen to you inside when you see that ball struck sweetly, or just go up and down, then golf isn’t for you.
“If you do, that’s the beginning of the end because the addiction will really kick in. That’s what happened to me.
“I was very fortunate. I had a close group of friends who got into it at the same time. We didn’t have a clue. You start off at the pitch and putt and you progress your way up, but you did it collectively.
“We were always nervous about going to golf courses to see how we would be received because it has always seemed to be a sport played by white, middle-class, rich men. To see brown guys there was just a no, no.”
But Malik found common ground and he began to see similarities between golf and his faith – a discovery that only deepened the bond.
“If you look at what golf does, what it teaches and how it’s played, it’s a phenomenal sport,” he explains.
“You learn so much from a life perspective. People really grow up, because of who you’re playing with and the values. I’m talking about the game in its pure sense because the course doesn’t discriminate.
“If you respect the course, the course respects you. I was comparing it with Islam and I just found so many similarities.
“If you look at the etiquette, the integrity, the handicapping system. For me, it was phenomenal. I’ll give you an example. There’s one quote I’ve got on one of my banners. I don’t know how true it is in itself but it goes along these lines. It says ‘The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well’.
“It really is a game of small margins because no one’s really watching you when you’re standing over that ball. It could be a difference of one inch between a good and a bad lie. If you move that, no one would be the wiser but there’s always that concept that golf is a game of integrity. It’s a game of honesty.
“If you look at the Islamic faith, that’s the fundamental principle. You will be held accountable for whatever has taken place in your life on earth.
“It’s the Day of Judgement. You might have gotten away with it in today’s world, but you will be held accountable on that day.
“That’s the concept of God that will always stay with a Muslim. When you’re playing golf, it’s integrity, it’s honesty and you’re trusted within that.”
Swept up in the sport, Malik began to wonder how many other Muslims played golf and as he spread his wings around other courses he started to find pockets of people around the country who felt the same way as him.
So an experiment began. A charity golf day was planned under the guise of a new organisation, the Muslim Golf Association.
He launched, more in hope than expectation, on Christmas Day 2019 for an event at The Grove. Within 24 hours, 72 people had signed up for a round taking place six months in the future. There was soon a waiting list of another 100. The penny dropped.
“I thought, ‘There’s clearly something here and there is a demand.’ That’s when the association really started and the inspiration was not just to see how many Muslims there were.
“I absolutely love this game but there are certain things, such as the big social scene. Golf has a big drinking culture associated with it in the 19th hole.
“That doesn’t sit right with me. As someone who prays, there will be times when you are playing a three- or four-hour round, there’s going to be a time to pray and we found it awkward to do so.
“I really wanted to create a platform where people could come together, and just feel safe, and not feel intimidated or have to feel like they’ve got to sacrifice their values to enjoy this game.”
Those values are very simple. No alcohol, no gambling, and prayer facilities that are always available. Malik’s events aren’t defined by faith, ethnicity, race or gender. Everyone is welcome – as long as they respect those core principles.
The response has been huge. A series of events this year, which will culminate in a final at Forest of Arden on August 12, have been oversubscribed.
A taster event for Muslim women, held in tandem with Love Golf, was so popular immediate plans were made to stage others.
“It’s just been so humbling, just to see how many people have reached out and said they’ve been looking for something like this,” he said of the reaction.
“I’m very fortunate. I’ve grown up with confidence. I’ve had good people around me and being successful in my personal and private life has given me confidence to be able to deal with certain situations.
“But not everyone is like that. I have had a lot of racist comments thrown and I’ve gone through some difficult situations but I’m ugly enough and old enough to have gone through that.
“Many people haven’t and they’ve been scarred for life. It’s not until you hear other people’s stories and what they’ve been through that you understand that.
“I created the association as a platform for inspiration. You should be proud to be a Muslim individual, whether that be outwardly or inwardly.
“We want people to come in and say ‘you can come and be yourself and you can take these values with you wherever you go and you shouldn’t have to hide them’. They should just be respected.
“So the feedback has been very humbling but, at the same time, it’s also been very alarming because so many people are saying ‘I started this game but I fell out of it’. It wasn’t necessarily abuse but the feedback and comments made people feel uncomfortable.”
Success has come quicker than Malik could have dared hope. The Association has been a familiar presence on media over the last few weeks and months, from the BBC to the Guardian.
The response from the wider industry, and the enthusiastic calls of golfers themselves, has left him dreaming big. The UK has been conquered. Now he wants to take the MGA global.
“I’ve purposely called it the Muslim Golf Association because I am Muslim. It’s something I can resonate with and empathise with and understand. Being a Muslim means that we don’t look at nationalities or colours, the faith really brings everyone together of all backgrounds.
“But there’s a big population in the east. If you look at the Middle East, if you look at the subcontinent, if you look at Malaysia, you look at Indonesia, there’s billions of Muslims.
“These people are just untapped. If we look at the PGA Tour, the European Tour, how many Muslims are actually on those? Very few, if any at all.
“We’ve missed a trick here. I want to introduce this game to everybody in the world. I’m going to start with Muslims. I want to take what we’ve done in the UK to the Middle East, to Pakistan, to India, to Malaysia.
“I would love to have an MGA global tournament where we get people from all across the world in qualifiers and get them all together. Why not?
“I think golf is ripe for change. If we’re living in a world of disruption, if you look at all the other corporate industries, the finance industry, the legal industry, the traditional systems have been broken because people are fed up of the way that things have been done.
“We’ve got to evolve and, unfortunately, the golf arena for me is still very traditionalist and still very elitist. It is ripe for disruption. It is ripe for change.
“Hopefully I can be an inspiration for other communities and other people to come in and make that change. But we can’t do it alone.
“We’ve got to be forward thinking. We’ve got to be open. Ignorance isn’t an excuse anymore. We’ve got to be flexible.
“I still respect the game and its traditions and its values. I get that. But if we look at grassroots level, at entry level, things have to change. We’ve got to get people loving this game for what it truly is about.”
Now listen to the podcast
Amir joined Steve on the From the Clubhouse podcast from NCG, where he discusses the above and more. Listen in the player below on your preferred podcast platform.