By Bob Denney
Vincent Kabaso’s quest to become a PGA Professional in many ways mirrors the history of his homeland of Zambia, a landlocked nation in south central Africa that struggled for identity.
Formerly Northern Rhodesia and under British rule, Zambia gained independence in 1964, with its inaugural president, Kenneth Kaunda, who was an avid golfer while governing for 27 years.
Today, Zambia has 25 golf courses for a population of 17 million and its first PGA Professional in 31-year-old Kabaso. The son of a copper miner, Kabaso proved his golf talent as a teenager, and along the way, crossed multiple barriers to reach PGA Membership. Earlie this month, he landed the PGA First Assistant Professional position at Laurel Creek Country Club in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
Born in Luanshya (“Loo-won-sha”), a tiny town in Zambia’s “Copper Belt,” Kabaso didn’t have the benefits of normal after-school games. He and his friends took turns hunting for birds and mice using catapults, kicking a makeshift soccer ball made of plastic debris, and exhibiting the insouciance of youth by swimming in a nearby snake- and disease-infested stream.
When Kabaso’s father, Albert, wasn’t toiling deep under the earth, he played golf at Roan Antelope Golf Course. It became Kabaso’s training ground.
By age nine, Kabaso was introduced to golf and played with persimmon clubs until age 18. Without a golf lesson, he won the Zambia Junior National Championship at age 15, qualified for the Zambia Open in the same year and was playing for the Zambia National Team at 16. “I played golf in second-hand tennis shoes and couldn’t even afford buying new golf balls or even a glove.
“I was showing my skill, but I often ran into the politics of not having a prominent enough last name. My biggest disappointment was winning the qualifier to the British Junior Boys Championship and being sidelined for the same reasons.”
Kabaso graduated from high school in 2004, then earned a series of grants to study golf and sports science in England and Scotland. “The R&A also sponsored my first-ever complete set of golf clubs, which I got custom-fitted at the TaylorMade facility in England. This was a great boost to my confidence and my game improvement rapidly,” said Kabaso.
He returned to Zambia in 2009, after graduating from a golf management curriculum at Elmwood College in Cupar, Fife, Scotland, and eventually managed a golf course while opening a "first-of-its-kind" junior golf academy. He also turned professional in 2010, and served as a coach and mentor to the Zambia national golf team.
In 2013, at age 26, Kabaso again packed up and left everything in Zambia, to pursue his dream of becoming a PGA Professional. He enrolled in the PGA Golf Management University Program at Methodist University, with his tuition coming through family sponsorship related to the copper mine industry.
During his time at Methodist College, Kabaso met his wife, Hannah Dake, in a church group. Hannah, a native of Minnesota, was a graduate of the Air Force Academy and attained the rank of captain while in North Carolina.
Yet, misfortune stalled Kabaso’s mission in golf once more. Copper prices in Zambia plunged, and he lost his sponsorship funds. To keep his PGA goal alive, Kabaso applied for jobs posted online.
He applied for a locker room attendants’ position at New Haven Country Club in Hamden, Connecticut. During his phone interview, New Haven PGA Head Professional Bill Wallis asked Kabaso if he could also help with the junior golfers.
“I told him I had the experience in Zambia and it was something l loved to do,” said Kabaso. “Bill expressed great interest from the onset and that was when I felt some glimmer of hope that things were beginning to work out.”
Wallis recalled Kabasos’ struggle. “He wanted so desperately to become a golf professional,” said Wallis. “My goal was to set him up for success. He was great with people and loves the game as much as any other PGA Professional. The kids loved him.”
Kabaso returned to New Haven for a second year, giving him a firmer foothold in the golf profession. “The position at New Haven meant I could re-enter the PGA path to membership as a PGA Associate. “While there, we created a little buzz around the classes, which ultimately helped the increase in both juniors and ladies’ programs participation,” recalled Kabaso.
After New Haven, Kabaso spent one season at Berkshire Country Club, in Reading, Pennsylvania. In late 2016, he worked on the road as a salesperson for Srixon Golf. Then back to New Haven for a second stint in 2018.
His time at New Haven was short-lived as he and Hannah found out they would be welcoming their first baby. Hannah was on active duty at New Jersey’s McGuire Air Force Base. Their daughter, JoAnna Zawadi, was born last September.
Kabaso’s journey continued, serving six months as a PGA Assistant Professional at Talamore Country Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania. On Feb. 2, he accepted the PGA First Assistant Professional post at Laurel Creek Country Club, in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
Kabaso’s story keeps going. He also is an author, completing a book: “How the World Raised Me – My Path to becoming Zambia’s first PGA Professional.”
“Golf means everything to me. If I wasn’t playing golf, I know I wouldn’t have amounted to anything,” said Kabaso. “When I found golf, I went down to a C-plus in my academics. If you retreat from that point, you end up in the streets and can likely get into trouble.”
There was no hesitation when asked to describe his best moment in the game. It came on April 2, 2018. “I should have had a video at the time,” he beamed. “I opened a letter that announced I had earned my PGA Membership and saw those three letters – PGA – after my name.
“When you finally see the end, it is like a heavy load has been taken off your shoulders.
“It’s an honor to be the first PGA Member from Zambia. It means everything to me. I had a deep appreciation for the process. Everything that I have gone through to get to this point, I have a deeper appreciation to the process and having made something of myself.”
A Zambian proverb, “kalya uzumanana” fits Kabaso like a new set of clubs: “He who perseveres gets the reward.”
On Jan. 16, Kabaso’s achievements earned a shout-out in our nation’s capital. As a constituent at the time of Montgomery County in Pennsylvania, Kabaso was recognized on the floor of Congress by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R -Pennsylvania), who concluded his remarks, “We applaud his achievements, his service and accomplishments.”
Kabaso has created the “Raised by the World” Foundation, designed to connect University of Zambia students to local community schools. They are tasked to help children develop goals and aspirations through personal experiences in return for a stipend. The foundation also supports junior golfers and includes a collection of used golf equipment that Kabaso collects in the U.S. and sends back to Zambia.
Kabaso takes his foundation’s creed to heart. “We have one child, Oswald, who I started in golf, and I have assumed responsibility. Oswald is an orphan and I’ve looked over him for four years. He’s currently in 10th grade going through private high school.”
Three years ago, Kabaso founded the Albert Kabaso invitational Tournament to honor his father. The tournament’s field has steadily grown, as it seeks to preserve some local golf traditions and support the local community.
“I try to instill in kids the mindset required to understand one’s purpose,” said Kabaso. “Kids who go through our program understand what you must do to be successful or at least the process to any career of their choice. We are self-funded now, but hope to be a fully functional nonprofit organization that can impact and change many lives and set an example for selfless service.”
For Vincent Kabaso, the road to personal achievement continues.
“I once felt that I was so far behind the 8-ball. But now, I feel that the world is up there for my taking.”
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